It starts as a sore in the mouth. Then, quickly, noma—a gangrenous infection that thrives where poor sanitation and malnutrition are common—eats through facial muscles, cartilage, and skin, leaving a wound that often gapes open to the bone. More than 100,000 children worldwide have noma; the rate in sub-Saharan Africa is as high as 1 in 1,000 a year. Most victims are children, and over 70 percent die from the disease. Photographer Pascal Maitre met 12-year-old Noufou Tapsoba (above) in Niamey, Niger. Sentinelles, a Swiss NGO specializing in noma care, had brought the boy to a hospital there for reconstructive surgery; more operations followed Maitre’s visit. Though no one knows exactly what causes noma, the disease is treatable if caught in time—and preventable with proper nutrition and health care. These groups are trying to stop its spread:
Sentinelles works to prevent noma and expedites surgery for disfigured children. Checks made out to the group should include its account number (CCP 10-4497-9) and be sent to Sentinelles, Les Cerisiers, Route de Cery, 1008 Prilly, Switzerland. For more information go to sentinelles.org (the site is only in French).
The University of Maryland Dental School
The University of Maryland Dental School offers dental care to noma-prone kids in Africa. Contributions (payable to UMB Foundation, Inc., specifying “Noma Research and Treatment Fund”) should be directed to the University of Maryland Dental School, Office of the Assistant Dean of Finance, 650 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21201.