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God save “America” – America Molla – 3-year old Ethiopian girl with “noma”

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This is America (the child with a blue necklace) with her brother, baby sister and her mum (Genet). No member of the family has ever been further than a few miles fromtheir own village.

Last Thursday (2nd March), Kidist and Titty, Facing Africa’s Ethiopian staff were visiting the main government hospital in Dessie, a town located about 7-8 hours drive north of Addis. They were told that there was a little girl called “America” who had been admitted to the hospital on Monday (27th Feb) suffering from extreme malnutrition and that an aggressive bacterial infection had destroyed most of the right side of her face, her nose and upper lip. When America had been admitted to the hospital, the right side of her face was covered by a large necrotic scab which the local surgeon had debrided thus leaving a gaping hole.

As soon as Kidist and Titty saw America, they sent me a few photos and asked whether Facing Africa could help this 3-year old child who was receiving very basic nourishment and wound care in a stomach-churning ward. Added to the appalling conditions in the hospital, America weighed a mere 7.1 kg (15.6 lbs).

It was obvious that if America was to survive, it was imperative that she be moved to a better hospital and this would involve a 7 – 8 hour journey by road to take her to Addis. All the Facing Africa volunteer surgeons in the UK were sent photos and brief details about America and were asked for advice on how to save America’s life. Responses with advice were received, but the most pressing need was to get America out of the hospital in Dessie and move her to an hospital in Addis. The Dessie hospital offered to provide an ambulance but after a lot of dithering and bureaucratic conditions  were imposed, it was decided that time was critical and America could not wait so Facing Africa engaged a private ambulance which took her and her mother to Addis, arriving at 1.30 am after a 7-hour journey through the night.

Dr Einar, a Norwegian plastic surgeon in Addis who has worked with Facing Africa for the past 8 yearsarranged for the CURE Hospital (CURE Ethiopia is a paediatric orthopaedic teaching hospital located in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. Opened in 2008, the hospital is a state-of-the-art complex that provides modern medical and surgical care to physically disabled children). Mary Bernard, Medical Director ofCURE Hospital very generously offered to take America in and to do everything possible to restore America’s health and save her life from malnutrition. Since being admitted tothe CURE Hospital, America has undergone several tests and is being fed through a tube in her nose.  She appears to be doing well and has an appetite.

America will of course need major reconstructive surgery in time and when she is well enough to undergo anaesthesia and a series of lengthy and complex operations. In the meantime, we are extremely grateful to the following people who have contributed to the survival and wellbeing of America:-

  • Dr Einar Eriksen – Norwegian surgeon based in Ethiopia
  • Dr Mary Bernard – Medical Director CURE Hospital, Addis
  • Dr Tesfaye Mulat – Surgeon looking after America
  • Paul Wilson – surgeon
  • Dr Hiroshi Nishikawa – surgeon
  • Dr Graham Merrick – surgeon
  • Dr Will Rodgers – surgeon
  • Dr David Dunaway – surgeon
  • Kidist Kebede – Facing Africa’s Ethiopian Manager
  • Tihitna (Titty) Tafeti – Facing Africa noma patient tracer & nurse

What emerges from this terrible case proves that noma is a vicious and aggressive disease which devours soft tissue at an alarming rate. Only 3 weeks ago, America showed no signs of any kind of illness. Had the mother not taken her to an hospital, her daughter would have died within days.

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