WHO releases information materials for early detection and control of noma cases

09 March 2017 WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) just launched an information brochure, and derived poster, on early detection and management of noma in the African region. The resources are designed as training tools for health workers, community healthcare workers, and opinion leaders in contact with populations at risk of contracting noma.

Noma is a severe and rapidly progressive disease that destroys the mouth and face, affecting mostly children under six years old in Sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from malnutrition and live in extreme poverty. Noma can be treated if detected early, but without prompt treatment, it can be fatal in as much as 90% of patients.

“More than a disease, noma is a tragedy. As a problem confronting public health, WHO strongly believes it belongs to the political agenda of affected countries. But it goes further still, as an issue that transgresses the boundaries of human rights and equity.”
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa

The face of poverty

Noma is often described as “the face of poverty”. It starts as a lesion of the gums which develops into an ulcerative gingivitis that destroys the soft tissues and bones of the mouth, and further progresses to perforate the hard tissues and skin of the face. Survivors endure lifelong disfigurement, have difficulty eating and speaking, and face social stigma and isolation.

Poverty and malnutrition are the main risk factors for noma, but others include poor oral hygiene and diseases such as HIV, malaria and measles. Early detection followed by prompt treatment are crucial in improving the health of the affected child. Therefore, regular oral examinations at home or during medical visits are key to identify warning signs that may develop into noma.

Access the resources

The brochure and poster intend to bridge the knowledge gap on noma and combat under-information and misconceptions about the disease. WHO has updated the five stages of noma and provides recommendations for enhanced management by health professionals and family and friends, as well as the medication required at each stage. The information materials are available in English, French and Portuguese on the WHO Institutional Repository for Information Sharing website.