Facing Africa is a British charity which twice a year funds a volunteer team of 3 Anaesthetists, 4 Surgeons and a number of Nurses to go to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia where they perform reconstructive surgery. The disease Noma is an acute, rapidly progressive, necrotising infection of the mouth. It begins as a small, gingival ulcer and results in gangrenous necrosis of the surrounding facial tissues. Survivors of acute Noma usually have severe disfigurement and functional impairment including trismus, oral incontinence, difficulties eating and speech problems. The Facing Africa charity seeks out these patients in very remote, rural areas of Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia and brings them to Addis Ababa for nutritional and medical care prior to performing complex and frequently multi-stage operations (often over several trips and years) before helping to integrate them back into their homes.
Noma (cancrum oris) is an acute and gangrenous infection affecting the face. The victims of Noma are mainly children under the age of 6, caught in a vicious circle of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition who suffer unimaginable pain, discomfort and social exclusion from their communities.
Noma is an opportunistic infection that begins with ulcers in the mouth that is promoted by extreme poverty. If the condition is detected in the early stage, progression can be prevented with the use of mild antibiotics and immediate nutritional rehabilitation. If left untreated, as happens in most cases, the ulcers progress to Noma at an alarming pace. The next stage is extremely painful when the cheeks or lips begin to swell and the victim’s general condition deteriorates. Within a few days, the swelling increases and a blackish furrow appears and the gangrenous process sets in and, after the scab falls away and a gaping hole is left in the face. It is estimated that the mortality rate reaches up to an alarming 90%.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 140,000 new cases of noma every year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. More information on Noma is available on the Facing Africa website.