Monday, July 05, 2010

Facing Africa

Went in to wish my son goodnight, at a very late hour last night, and found him watching a documentary on Facing Africa, a charity which rebuilds the faces of children afflicted with a variety of diseases that ravage the face. Last nights (this morning's) programme focussed on children who have suffered from Noma.

It seems that a combination of malnutrition and infection, eats away at the structure of the face. Some children die, but others survive with the most horrific injuries to their faces. They are not easy to look at, because it is unexpected and incongruous to see a child with half a face. It is heartbreaking to see a child living under a scarf because people shy away from them.

I didn't think I had heard of Noma, but I had, there was a documentary years about about the boy David, a boy from the jungles of Peru who was adopted by a facial surgeon, who built him a new face and adopted him as his son. I think I assumed it was a jungle disease, and rare... I had no idea that there were hundreds of children in Africa, dealing with the aftereffects of the disease.

The documentary was completely gripping, and difficult to keep watching. I don't do operations really, choosing to look away.

I felt so sorry for the children who didn't get to be assessed and operated on - and the one whose case was so complex she only had the first of a series of operations. Her case was the worst they had seen, and the poor child had the additional problem of an infection after the surgery.

The Facing Africa website says that malnutrition in children is the biggest cause of Noma... and that eradicating hunger is for governments. In a way that's true, but I do believe that we could be doing more individually to help draw attention to areas where people are in crises. It seems that there are any number of children starving in Niger, for example.

How about demanding that the International Oil Companies who have sucked so much out of Niger, should put something back again? Reparation along the lines of that being demanded in the Gulf would go a long way towards helping those people: and writing a couple of emails to demand it costs nothing.

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