Dr Hafiz Muhammed from Kozhikode, India, went to Nigeria as part of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team, where he treated 27 survivors of the Noma disease, sharing his experience of providing life-changing reconstructive surgery.
‘Noma is an overlooked but devastating disease which affects children who are often already suffering from malnutrition, malaria and other poverty-driven factors. I had only a faint memory of the name of the disease I had heard during my medical schooling. It starts as a small ulcer in the mouth but rapidly invades the soft tissue and the bones. Ninety per cent of the victims die. The rest who survive have big gaps in their cheeks and lips, and parts of their nose would be lost. It is a grim sight. Poverty is, of course, at the root of the problem.
I had my apprehensions at first. I have never been exposed to the disease before. One week was spent on travel to reach Sokoto. And then we screened the patients to choose those we could perform the surgeries on. Some had malaria and could not be operated on.
Detailed literature regarding this disease is also fairly limited – a small textbook by the Dutch Noma Foundation shared with me by a previous surgeon became my bible for understanding the disease. As days passed by, my apprehensions died down as I realised that I could depend on my fundamental skills as a reconstructive surgeon at most times. We treated 27 patients, and the vast majority of them showed fair to excellent healing. My two-week assignment flew past in the blink of an eye. I hope to return soon!