By Richard Abu
Stakeholders in Nigeria’s health sector have demanded the absence of a policy framework for the control of Noma disease.
They lamented that the absence of the framework had slowed down efforts aimed at curbing the disease.
The experts spoke at a workshop on mapping of Noma disease in Nigeria organised by a group, Oral Health Advocacy Initiative (OHAI) with the support of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Abuja.
Noma (Cancrum Oris) is an acute devastating oral-facial gangrene that occurs mainly among children. It destroys the soft and hard tissues of the oral and para-oral structures. Survivors of the disease may exhibit facial mutilation, impaired growth of the facial skeleton, nasal regulation of food, leakage of saliva, defective speech and chewing difficulties. The disease is chiefly related with poverty.
While opening the workshop, OHAI’s Director of Noma Intervention Programme, Dr. Ver-Or Ngutor, explained that mapping of Noma cases in Nigeria was aimed at identifying the high burden states in the country to facilitate accurate strategic intervention plan that would address the emerging challenges of Noma cases.
He said that though intervention on the disease control had started in Nigeria, it had been slow as the government in particular and other stakeholders had not given it the needed attention.
Ngutor said that surgical reconstruction of the deformity is expensive, time-consuming and rarely available or affordable where it is most needed.
Although Noma is not well documented, in 1998, the WHO estimated that between 100,000 and 140,000 cases of the disease occur yearly in the African region with a mortality rate of between 70-80 per cent.
Consultant Clinical Microbiologist at the National Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Kenneth Iregbu, urged the government to take up the issue of Noma as a challenge.
He said: “Looking at the devastating nature of the disease, it is something that should take the front burner in health discussions at the community levels. Government needs to bring it up as a challenge and find solutions to it squarely. That is where one will expect the donor agencies to come in. But that has to be led by the government. Government should make it a priority and the donor agencies can identify with the view to helping address the challenge,” Iregbu said.
Another participant, Chidi Nweneka, said that efforts towards the control of Noma in Nigeria had been slow and urged the government to act fast.