Noma disease, which is also known as Cancrum oris, is an infectious but non-contagious bacterial disease that starts as an inflammation of the gums similar to a small mouth ulcer.
The infection destroys the bone and tissue very quickly affecting the jaw, lips, chicks, nose, or eyes depending on where the infection started, leaving an open gaping sore, exposing the teeth which makes it difficult for the individual to eat, see, speak or even breath.
Noma survivors usually deal with social stigma caused by the horrific damage done to the face, but they can have a better life if they undergo reconstructive surgery.
Ninety percent of the people affected by Noma die in the first two weeks if they don’t receive treatment in time. That’s why early detection and awareness-raising campaigns are so important for a disease that affects 140,000 children every year according to the World Health Organization.
The exact cause of Noma is unknown but may be due to a certain kind of bacteria.
This disorder mostly occurs in young, severely malnourished children between the ages of two to five.
The Federal Government has raised the alarm that Noma disease is silently killing Nigerians, particularly in the northwestern states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Jigawa and other states. Outside the northwest, notably Akwa Ibom.
The Government says that rising poverty, ignorance and deprivation in Nigeria’s northwestern states are responsible for the high rate of Noma disease in the region and other states.
The Coordinator, National Noma Control Programme, Dr. Bola Ige, who spoke at the opening ceremony of the Africa regional Noma workshop in Abuja on Monday, disclosed that 90 percent of people that have the disease do not survive, with the remaining 10 percent permanently disfigured.
She disclosed that in spite of the fatality of Noma disease, Nigeria has no workable policy to respond to the crisis, neither does it have statistical data on the disease because of the paucity of funds and insufficient manpower to carry out a comprehensive national survey.
“We don’t have funds to finance a national survey on Noma. However, we have applied for grants and other sponsorships to enable us to conduct the survey. For now, we work with figures we receive from public hospitals, particularly the Noma specialist hospital in Sokoto,” she said.
Dr. Ige stressed the need for timely recognition of the symptoms of Noma disease which, if attended to properly, could avert death or the permanent deformity of patients.
Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in his remarks, expressed optimism that the newly launched Noma Policy Document and the National Triennial Action Plan would go a long way in raising public awareness about Noma disease.
He confirmed that Noma disease can be significantly reduced, or even prevented if national awareness of the disease and improved nutrition can be promoted.
He said that exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of a child’s life, education on prenatal care and personal hygiene, oral hygiene, timely immunization should be promoted.