Joint Venture: the Sokoto Noma Project

The biggest, most work-intensive and longest-lasting project of our foundation was the charity project for Noma victims in West Africa. Between 1996 and 2011, we sent in cooperation with other European organisations 50 experienced medical teams to Sokoto / Nigeria. They operated on hundreds of children who hardly had a chance to survive without this help. After 15 years, the project was handed over to local hands.

"Noma" is the name used for one of the most serious facial defects that are caused by a bacterial mixed infection. Affected above all are young children in the so-called developing countries whose bodies, because of poverty and life circumstances, cannot produce sufficient defences. The infection could be contained with antibiotics but there is not just a lack of medication but also a shortage of information. At the beginning, all of us had one thing in common: we were deeply shocked when we were first confronted with these heavily disfigured Noma children. We decided that we could no longer ignore what we had seen.

The Sokoto initiative was set up in 1995 by our foundation. The Noma project in Sokoto was our largest and most important project and was dedicated to the surgical rehabilitation of the victims. However, the realisation of this project would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of other organisations, some of whom have specialised in Noma: the Dutch Noma Foundation became the first cooperation partner of our foundation after German and Dutch surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre nurses had carried out the first joint team missions in Nigeria in 1996. The DNF was registered in 1997. It supported and initiated projects and research, which, on a long term basis, were to help prevent the development of the disease and cure its sufferers. Campaigns, lectures and fundraising activities formed the financial basis of the fight against Noma. On the one hand, the objective of DNF was prevention and, on the other, it was the treatment of the victims of Noma. When it came to the surgical treatment of Noma victims, the Dutch Noma Foundation relied on its close cooperation with the members of Interplast.

Interplast is an international network of experienced plastic, oral and maxillofacial surgeons as well as anaesthetists with sections in several countries in Europe and the US. Interplast offers medical treatment free of charge for patients with congenital and acquired defects as well as facial deformities in developing countries (cleft lips, jaws and palates, serious burn scars, tumours, defects caused by accidents or war). Interplast members work all over the world under extremely tough conditions. As the plastic surgery performed on Noma victims is considered an enormous challenge, the voluntary participation of these committed and very experienced surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre nurses in the team missions was an indispensable part of the Noma project in Sokoto.

"Facing Africa" had joined the project in 2000. The British charity was set up in 1998 by Chris and Terry Lawrence and Dr Allan Thom. They were told about the terrible situation of the children suffering from Noma and decided to help fight the battle against Noma. They did some research and spoke with dozens of people. But it was difficult to obtain detailed information and answers. Should they try and find individual Noma victims and bring them to England to spend months undergoing complicated facial surgery or should they form a team of voluntary workers in order to have the children treated in their home country? After a great deal of deliberation, it was decided that it made far more sense to support medical team missions at a specially chosen location in Africa. Hence, the decision was taken that Facing Africa would work together with us and take part in the aid mission in Sokoto. This co-operation lasted until 2011. In the meantime Facing Africa has set up its own humanitarian Noma-project in Ethiopia.

Download: The Sokoto Noma Project (pdf 1.3 MB | 01.09.2015)