Noma is a gangrenous infection that causes severe disfigurement and leads to pain, discomfort and discrimination. Today it is mainly found in Africa, though it used to be seen around the world. Despite being preventable and treatable with antibiotics, an estimated 90 percent of Noma patients still die because of lack of access to healthcare.
Noma can lead to disfiguring injuries to the mouth, jaw, nose and eyes, depending on where the initial infection is located. Poverty is the main factor of Noma and others are closely related: poor oral hygiene and malnutrition, as well as diseases that affect immuno-deficiency like measles. A majority of Noma patients contract the disease during early childhood, between one and six years, while they are still growing up. If they survive, they have to live with disfiguring injuries and cope with painful complications as they grow up and the injuries evolved.
At the Noma Children hospital, in Sokoto, Nigeria, patients of all ages undergo a reconstructive surgery programme that will improve their health and their chances of re-entering society. An international team of surgeons comes to Sokoto four times per year to perform the surgeries. But first they have to screen each patient and check different factors to decide if they can operate on them. So after months of waiting for the surgeons to arrive, some may have to confront the harsh reality that they may be too weak or too severely injured to have the operation.