Transforming lives in Ethiopia

Understanding Noma

Reading time: 3 min

Each year Ethiopiaid’s supporters help us to fund two complex surgical missions to perform life changing surgeries for victims of Noma across Ethiopia. It is a complex and devastating disease so below are 8 to inform you about Noma and the efforts of Ethiopiaid and its partners in dealing with this crisis.

What causes Noma?

Noma is caused mainly by malnutrition and extreme poverty. It was eradicated throughout Europe around 1860 with improvements in people’s diets and alongside the industrial revolution. It resurfaced during the Second World War in German concentration camps as a result of malnutrition. It is now found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of South America and South East Asia.

Is Noma infectious?

Noma is not infectious. It frequently starts following an illness such as measles or as a fairly minor gum infection. It acts incredibly quickly particularly on children under the age of 6. Within 10-14 days Noma can destroy the soft tissue covering half the face.

What is the survival rate?

The World Health Organisation estimates that 90% of Noma victims die within 4 weeks of getting the infection.

Who are we helping?

Noma often follows the effects of other illnesses or begins as a minor gum infection particularly in children. Read about America here, a 6 year old due to undergo Noma surgery.

How are we helping?

Ethiopiaid supporters fund two surgical missions each year usually in February May and October. These missions are staffed by volunteer surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses recruited by our partners from the UK and Ireland. Noma is relatively simple to cure with an antibiotic if caught in the very early stages. However the vast majority of victims come from extremely poor and malnourished families living in remote areas of the countryside with little or no access to medicine. With difficulty breathing, eating, drinking and speaking, survivors are often isolated from their communities. They often live hidden away so our partners visit rural and remote communities, running awareness campaigns to help identify survivors and offer help. Last year we helped to complete over 40 reconstructions as well as support patients in post-operative care, accommodation and food for a further 4 weeks after surgery.

Can Noma survivors be completely cured?

Noma survivors have often been living with facial disfigurements long before our partner’s surgeons reach them. The surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses are able to restore or partially restore the missing tissue on their faces, enabling them to re-join their communities who have, up until now, rejected them.

What about the medical team?

Our fantastic volunteer medical teams not only perform the surgeries and dedicated post-operative care but also provide skill sharing opportunities to local medical professionals improving knowledge and expertise in the country.

What is predicted for Noma in the future?

Our partners predict an increase in children developing Noma, largely due to the food and water shortages continuing to affect parts of Ethiopia. This leads to malnutrition and susceptibility to infection and disease. This year we hope, across the two missions, to complete 120 surgeries and we will continue to follow and share the journeys of the Noma victims that our hard working medics hope to transform.

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