MSF Statement on EB148/6 – Oral health and noma disease
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the progress report on oral health. It shows that the burden of oral diseases disproportionally affects the most marginalized communities. We are particularly glad to read that efforts will be intensified to control noma disease.
Noma is a necrotizing disease affecting mainly children from the poorest communities. It starts in the mouth and quickly leads to disfigurement and stigmatization. Data suggest that up to 90% of people with noma die, with one model estimating 140,000 deaths annually.
However, noma is actually preventable and treatable and should not exist anymore. It can be treated easily with a short course of antibiotics and wound dressing, if cases are detected early. Noma can also be easily prevented when communities have better access to a balanced diet, good oral hygiene, healthcare and vaccination against childhood diseases.
In 2014, MSF began supporting a noma hospital in Sokoto, Nigeria – one of only a few in the world. This hospital treats the acute stages of noma and provides a holistic approach including surgery, physiotherapy, mental health support, health education and nutrition to help heal the scars of this debilitating disease.
Efforts at the community level to scale up preventive activities and detect people with active noma as well as noma survivors are crucial. However, noma is very neglected. It is unknown by many health care workers and stakeholders, even in countries with a high burden of the disease. MSF recommends that the World Health Organization recognise noma as a neglected tropical disease (NTD) of highest importance. This would put a spotlight on the disease and facilitate the integration of activities against noma with other public health programmes. Additional resources are required to end the neglect of noma. Raising awareness by recognising noma as an NTD is critical to make change happen.