Noma is a word for a disease also known as Cancrum Oris. Classified as a disease of poverty. It is an infective destruction of the tissue of the cheek, mouth, nose or the whole face.
Noma is a problem with severe detrimental social impact for the child-parent and communities of Africa where children live in families that exist below poverty line and therefore exposed to malnourishment and childhood diseases.
Although the Noma Project began in 1995, former President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated the Noma Children Hospital, built by the Sokoto State Government, in September 1999. First of its kind in Nigeria, the hospital was designated for the treatment of Noma patients as well as for research, control and prevention of the disease.
Because there were no indigenous specialists of Noma, the surgical reconstructions are still done in collaboration with teams of specialised plastic surgeons from Europe by humanitarian assistance, through financial donations.
There are surgeons presently from the UK, US, Netherlands who will be here for three weeks.
The first case was diagnosed during the Second World War (WWII). There was hunger and famine and Greek doctors noticed ulcers on the mouths of some children that were ravaged by war.
The ulcers, within a very short period started chopping off the flesh. Noma has causative organisms, bacteria that work in multitude and seen only see in people with malnutrition.
Their habitation is the mouth, which is why it only affects the mouth, nose and cheeks.
When the bacteria attack a patient, it is noticed within 12 hours. The mouth will smell badly, rashes will appear inside the mouth and on the cheeks, saliva will start dropping and there will be fever.
On treatment, the Sokoto state government, in collaboration with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), invites the surgeons to Sokoto on quarterly basis to treat patients who come from all over the Northern states, and neighbouring countries within Sokoto. There two patients now from Niger Republic.
Treatment of Noma patients is absolutely free, including medical bills, surgery, accommodation, feeding, transportation, etc. Therefore, while the state government takes some part of the expenses, our collaborators take some other part.
We go to outreach villages, see the patients and convey them here. Importantly, our theatre is the best equipped in the State.
Ahmad said the Hospital is fighting the disease through prevention methods including community orientation, mobilisation and participation. We also engage in house-to-house and family-to-family outreach information.
We carry out early identification of risk groups through population, community and school surveillance; Noma research and alert.
For definitive cure, nutritional rehabilitation is required, especially by use of vitamin and mineral supplementation; diagnosis and treatment of other accompanying diseases.
Because treatment of Noma disease is completely free, funding is a challenge. You know that anything free is always in demand, especially because those affected are poor.
The hospital needs support. Sokoto state government is doing its best and our collaborators are also doing their part but we need intervention by well-meaning Nigerians.