Noma, a disfiguring tropical disease in Nigeria, is a preventable and treatable condition that has unfortunately been neglected in impoverished areas in Nigeria. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has taken significant steps to support noma patients and combat the disease. Here is some information about noma and how MSF is tackling noma in Nigeria.
What is Noma?
Noma is an infectious but non-contagious bacterial disease that affects the face, primarily afflicting children between 2 and 5 years old living in impoverished conditions. Despite available preventions and cures, only up to 15% of affected children survive. Noma spreads rapidly, causing devastating damage to facial tissue and bones. Many survivors of the tropical disease in Nigeria are left with severe facial disfigurements and endure discrimination from their communities. The scars left from noma can lead to growth disturbances and result in functional impairment, making basic functions such as eating and speaking challenging. Here are five ways MSF is addressing noma in Nigeria.
5 Ways MSF is Tackling Noma in Nigeria
- Advocating for Global Attention: MSF recognizes the lack of epidemiological data and research on noma due to its neglected status. To address this, MSF, alongside 30 countries, has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to officially include noma in its list of neglected tropical diseases. This addition would bring much-needed attention from professionals and ensure early symptom recognition and timely intervention. The WHO will likely decide on this matter during one of its biannual meetings in 2023.
- Promoting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The lack of attention that noma receives is a major human rights violation. Noma thrives in regions where poverty deprives families of access to food and medical care. In addition to noma, affected children often struggle with other preventable diseases such as measles and malaria due to a lack of accessible vaccinations. In response, MSF began to fight for the implementation of SDGs to address the underlying causes of noma and improve overall health in affected families and communities.
- Conducting Community Outreach Programs: Early detection of noma remains a challenge, with many parents and local healers unaware of the disease’s symptoms until it is too late. MSF has taken a proactive approach by leading numerous outreach programs in Nigerian communities. These initiatives educate parents, health care workers, community members and traditional healers to recognize the early signs of noma. By facilitating early intervention, these programs have been instrumental in preventing deaths and providing simple yet effective treatments like antibiotics, oral hygiene and wound dressing. Thanks to these outreach programs, outreach medical teams identify many patients and send them to Sokoto for treatment.
- Training Health Care Professionals: MSF recognizes the need for accurate diagnosis and treatment of noma. In collaboration with the WHO, MSF has trained 740 Nigerian health workers to effectively detect and treat noma. Additionally, the Nigerian Ministry of Health has incorporated noma into the curricula of national and district health schools. On July 28, 2022, the WHO launched a free online interactive noma course that is available to anyone who wants to learn more about the disease.
- Providing Free Treatment and Care: MSF, in partnership with the Nigerian Ministry of Health, has been offering free health care and surgeries to noma patients at the Children’s Hospital in Sokoto since 2014. This initiative ensures that financial constraints do not hinder patients’ access to essential medical interventions. The medical teams have provided 1,152 free surgeries to 801 patients, making a significant impact on the lives of those noma affected.
Free and accessible health care and SDG action plans have been crucial factors in noma prevention and treatment. MSF and other humanitarian organizations are making a remarkable difference in combating this neglected tropical disease in Nigeria. With ongoing dedication and support, it is possible to work towards a future where noma no longer exists.
– Sophia Holub