A group, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has conducted 1,380 major and 800 minor surgeries on patients with facial disfigurement at NOMA Hospital in Sokoto State.
In 2023 alone, MSF has done 166 free major surgeries and 87 minor surgeries, which includes wounds for noma patients from Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kano and other northern states.
MSF has also done over 1,000 mental health consultations, group and individual counselling, and above 4,000 PFA cases this year.
The project manager of MSF, John Canty, in his remarks at the 2023 NOMA Day in Sokoto, identifies high rate of malnutrition as one of the major factors contributing to noma in the country.
Carty said, “Noma is a neglected disease which affects those living in poverty. It is infectious but non-contagious, beginning as an inflammation of the gums.
“The infection destroys the bone and tissue very quickly, affecting the jaw, lips, cheeks, nose or eyes, depending on where the infection started. Up to 90% of people die of noma in the first two weeks if they don’t receive treatment in time.
“For those who survive, they are left with severe facial disfigurements, rendering it difficult to eat, speak, see or breathe. Survivors are also frequently stigmatised and left to face discrimination and social isolation. Up to 90% of people die of noma in the first two weeks if they don’t receive treatment in time.
“Noma mostly affects children under six years old. Its cause is unknown but risk factors are malnutrition and poor oral hygiene, compounded by co-morbidity such as measles and malaria.”
The project manager further said, “Noma is treatable and preventable; it should not exist. If detected and managed during the first weeks of the disease, with basic oral hygiene, antibiotics and wound dressing, a patient can recover from noma within a few weeks. However, preventing noma demands knowledge about the disease and its treatment.
“Moreover, good nutrition, oral hygiene, access to healthcare and vaccinations against childhood diseases are all needed to prevent noma.
“In North West Nigeria, it can be very difficult for patients to seek treatment, and risk factors abound. For people living in isolated, impoverished places, reaching a clinic or a hospital can be impossible. People often rely upon traditional remedies in the first instance, but only antibiotics can stop the disease from spreading. Even when people can access a local clinic, they don’t have the money to pay for care or, once there, healthcare workers lack knowledge about noma.”
He however said specialized care is currently available for noma in Nigeria at the Sokoto State Ministry of Health’s Noma Hospital, “one of very few specialized noma hospitals in the world. MSF has been supporting this hospital since 2014 with specialized surgery.
“Combined with our medical activities, MSF has also campaigned alongside the Federal Republic of Nigeria to advocate for the inclusion of noma within the World Health Organisation (WHO) neglected tropical diseases list.”