(ERGO) – An outbreak of Diphtheria in Garowe has led to the deaths of 130 children in the last three months, according to Somali doctors working in private and public hospitals in this district of Puntland. Many more patients have been hospitalised with the disease and numbers are said to be rising.
Four local hospitals have been admitting children who are sick. They are the private Gotale hospital, Qaran hospital, Arafat hospital, and the public Garowe general hospital.
The director of Gotale hospital, Dr Ahmed Gutale, told Radio Ergo’s local correspondent in an interview that most of the children dying from Diphtheria in this outbreak were unvaccinated children from the rural areas outside the town.
Dr Gutale also appealed to the Puntland health authorities to ensure that private hospitals were supplied with the necessary antitoxins to treat cases of Diphtheria, as currently they do not have access to the drugs required to save lives.
Radio Ergo’s correspondent, Abdiweli Mohamed Sheikh, asked Dr Gutale to describe what he has been seeing at his hospital.
Dr Gutale: The children appear to be affected as if they had flu, with nasal congestion and runny nose, and they also quickly start showing different signs like swollen glands in the neck and difficulty breathing.
In Gotale hospital we have attended to many children who are sick with this disease and there are some who recover. The children who usually recover swiftly from this disease are those who have been vaccinated. However, the children dying of this disease acquire comorbidities where for example, their kidneys or hearts are affected.
This disease is potent. In recent months there has been a rise in the number of children dying. Since we started recording in December until now [date of interview 11th January 2024] I know of six deaths. In other hospitals including the mother and child health centres there are also reports of deaths, and similarly in the main hospital, so I can say the number of deaths overall has been rising in recent months.
Radio Ergo: Where do the children come from mostly, within the city or outside?
Dr Gutale: In our hospital the children we have admitted are mostly from the villages or have visited the villages. We have seen some leaving the cities to get milk from the villages during the rainy season. I can say the number of children coming from the villages or the rural outskirts is higher, and they usually don’t get vaccinated.
Radio Ergo: What has been the pattern over the last three months?
Dr Gutale: When the children arrive here, you can tell the disease by the symptoms. Coughing may be evident, but parents might take that lightly, although the disease will get worse in 24 hours. They start to struggle breathing, their necks swell, they lose their appetite. So, when the children arrive here, they are usually in a critical condition.
Some parents are aware and bring their children to hospital fast, so these children start getting medication before their condition worsens. Others come late and they may start to have organ failures such as kidney failure or develop heart problems, or they might start to become paralysed as nerve signals to the muscles are damaged. These children mostly arrive from remote areas in a critical condition.
Radio Ergo: Within the last three months how many children with this disease have been admitted to Gotale hospital?
Dr Gutale: In a day in Gotale hospital, one to three children arrive here. But on average it’s one patient in a day.
Radio Ergo: Do you have medicines?
Dr Gutale: There are medicines but Diphtheria is one of the deadly diseases that kills, it affects the respiratory system, people start to lose their appetite. It also affects all the main organs in the body, so it is therefore important for people to seek preventive measures [i.e. vaccination] rather than rely on medication.
There are two types of medicines used, one is antitoxins to stop damage by Diphtheria to your organs, and the other is regular antibiotics that are used to counter bacterial diseases. We have antibiotics that we give the children, but we don’t have the antitoxins which are very important. We currently don’t have them, and we refer the children to public hospitals.
However, I hope that when our voices reach the authorities as we have requested, they will also supply the private hospitals with these medicines as many patients are arriving here. The medicines need to be available, but as far as I know there are no antitoxins in private hospitals.
Radio Ergo: What are the long terms effects to the children if they recover?
Dr Gutale: Vaccinated children easily recover when they get the right medicine. For the other children there are some who are lucky and do get better. Some get organ failures or start showing acute symptoms that can affect the heart leading to heart failure, the same with the kidneys and the muscles which start to lose mobility.