Indonesia: WHO supports lifesaving diphtheria programmes during COVID-19 pandemic

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COVID-19 has caused widescale disruption to essential health services globally. To help maintain these in Indonesia, WHO is supporting surveillance of immunization services and vaccine preventable diseases, including diphtheria.

Diphtheria is an infectious bacterial disease that primarily affects the throat and upper airways and produces a toxin that disturbs other organs. It is spread through direct physical contact or from breathing in contaminated droplets from infected individuals. The disease is fatal in 5-10% of cases with a higher mortality rate among children.

Vaccination has reduced the mortality and morbidity of diphtheria dramatically. However, diphtheria is still a significant child health problem in countries with low immunization coverage. In 2019, Indonesia reported 948 cases of diphtheria nationwide. Eighty-one per cent of those who fell ill with the disease either had not completed the full dosage of immunization (7 doses or more) or had no vaccinations against diphtheria.

WHO and the Indonesian government are working together to achieve the national target of diphtheria control by 2024. Overcoming disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO is continuing to support Indonesia by providing technical assistance, facilitating capacity building for surveillance officers and sourcing lifesaving diphtheria antitoxin treatments. In late July, WHO procured and delivered 700 vials (10 000 international units per vial) of diphtheria antitoxin, a crucial treatment that can reduce child fatality.