Brazzaville -- The Swiss foundation "Winds of Hope" is to make US$2 million available to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) over a five year period in support of efforts to combat noma -- a devastating gangrenous disease which starts in the mouth and spreads quickly to disfigure the face.
This indication was given recently during the signing of a partnership agreement between "Winds of Hope" and AFRO in Brazzaville, Congo. Dr Bertrand Piccard, President of "Winds of Hope", initialled the agreement on behalf of the foundation while the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Ebrahim M. Samba, signed on behalf of WHO.
"Noma is a preventable disease", Dr Samba said at the signing ceremony. "Damage caused by the disease can be prevented if the condition is detected at an early stage, and simple and low-cost health care is provided to stop its evolution to the gangrenous stage of disfigurement".
In his remarks, Dr Piccard stated that it was unbearable to seen a child unable to cry because his or her face has been disfigured.
He added that the donation from "Winds of Hope" would be used to support preventive action and sustain primary health care in Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali as specified by the donors. Dr Bertrand Piccard is the president of the foundation which was established in 1999 to combat forgotten or neglected causes of suffering throughout the world, especially among children.
Noma, also known as cancrum oris, is attributed to poor hygiene and malnutrition, and spreads in conditions of extreme poverty. Its victims are usually aged between two and six. Untreated, noma is fatal in 70% of cases, and leaves survivors with intolerable mutilations. Survivors suffer the dual problems of facial disfigurement and associated functional impairment such as difficulty in eating, drinking and speaking.
Surgical reconstruction of the deformity is expensive, time-consuming and rarely available or affordable where it is most needed. Therefore, prevention in the best option. Although noma is not well documented, it is estimated that between 100,000 and 140,000 cases of the disease occur every year in the African Region. It is endemic in some countries where it has become a public health threat especially in economically disadvantaged communities.
In order to control noma in the Region, AFRO has developed a five-point strategy which involves:
- Prevention - Setting up information and education programmes to make parents, especially mothers and pregnant women, aware of the signs of noma and the urgent need to take action on it;
- Training - Training primary health care workers: in early detection of the disease and providing immediate care;
- Epidemiology and surveillance -Including noma in existing epidemiological surveillance systems;
- Etiological research - Promoting research to find out just how noma is caused;
- Primary health, and
- Rehabilitative surgery
For further information:
Dr. Charlotte Ndiaye
Division of Non-Communicable Diseases
Fax: + 47 241 39 514
Samuel T. Ajibola
Tel: + 47 241 39378
Email: ajibolas [at] afro.who.int