The ISG to lead the fight against Noma

Every year, Noma affects about 140,000 children; 90% die from it and the rest are disfigured for life. A disease of extreme poverty, with multiple causes, Noma is perhaps the most visible symbol of failing health systems. On 15 October, the Institute of Global Health (ISG) of UNIGE Faculty of Medicine launched a project involving an international multidisciplinary consortium that aims to better understand the causes of the disease and how to control it. Funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS), the project "Noma, The Neglected Disease, An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Its Realities, Burden and Framing" is led by Prof Emmanuel Kabengele Mpinga of the ISG and will last two years.

In addition to the ISG, the experts in this consortium come from the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, the University of York (UK), the Fondation Sentinelles in Lausanne, Médecins Sans frontières Suisse, the Centre de recherche en santé publique de Nouna (Burkina Faso) and Health Frontiers (Laos). UN Agencies (the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF Niger and WHO), NGOs (HilfsAktion Noma, Médecins Sans Frontières, Fondation Sentinelles, Health Frontiers, Songes, Winds of Hope & International No Noma Fédération) and government structures (Ministry of Health of Burkina-Faso and the National Programme for the Control of Oral Diseases and Noma of Niger) strongly support the project.

The project aims to answer questions about the burden of this disease at the global and household level, the major risk factors for Noma, its economic and social costs, the profile of survivors and the impact of the disease on the rights of affected people, as well as the effects of non- respect of these rights on the epidemiology of Noma. It will also advocate for the inclusion of Noma on the WHO list of neglected diseases.

Noma (cancrum oris) is a devastating gangrene that mainly affects young children aged 2 to 6 years living in extreme poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Noma develops in the mouth and then spreads rapidly, destroying the skin, muscles and bones of the face. Repair surgery is expensive and complex, but if diagnosed early, Noma is easy to prevent and can be treated simply and inexpensively. However, the majority of affected children do not receive adequate medical treatment, or are too late in the development of the disease to be able to save their faces and, often, their lives. Estimated at 90%, Noma has one of the highest mortality rates. Survivors, children and adults, often suffer significant aesthetic and functional consequences, not to mention social isolation, stigma and discrimination. The countries and regions concerned by the project are Burkina Faso, Niger, Laos, the United States of America and Europe, from a historical perspective.

The research team is composed of:

  • Prof. Emmanuel Kabengele Mpinga, ISG, Faculté de médecine de l’UNIGE
  • Dr Thomas Fürst, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel;
  • Dr Ioana Cismas University of York, UK,
  • Dr Denise Baratti-Mayer, HUG, 
  • Marie-Solène Adamou Moussa-Pham, Fondation Sentinelles,
  • Dr Margaret Leila Srour, Health Frontiers Laos,
  • Alice Trotter University of York, UK,
  • Emilien Jeannot, ISG, Faculté de médecine de l’UNIGE
  • Dr Gabriel Alcoba MSF, Geneva and HUG
  • Prof. Bernardino Fantini, professeur honoraire de la Faculté de médecine de l’UNIGE
  • Dr Moubassira Kagone, Centre de Recherche en Santé de Nouna, Burkina Faso


October 31, 2019