Nov 2016

Off the Plane Letter by Board Member Alex Chapman

Posted by Natacha Soto on Wednesday 2nd November 2016

Dear Supporter,

I have recently arrived from a field visit to Ethiopia which I wanted to share with you. As you may have heard on the news there has been civil unrest in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country and the Ethiopian government has announced a 6-month State of Emergency. Luckily, none of our partners have been directly affected but they are monitoring developments carefully and are concerned for the safety of their staff and beneficiaries. In one of Hope Enterprises schools in Roggie, the parents have come together and are taking it in turns to guard the school to ensure their children’s education is not disrupted. My thoughts are with them and all the people of Ethiopia at this time and I hope that calm and stability will be restored.

Part of the reason of my trip was to see how our partners are faring since the drought and how they have utilised the funding provided by Ethiopiaid’s generous supporters like yourselves. I was heartened to hear that the recent rains that finished in mid-September have been the best in 10 years. However, the crisis is by no means over. Now, there is an outbreak of Acute Watery Diarrhoea which is waterborne and spreading rapidly in some areas of the country. The protracted drought means that people are very susceptible as their immune systems have been weakened by malnutrition. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and children are particularly vulnerable. There have been over a hundred deaths already and the disease has spread to 4 districts. In Ethiopiaid we are doing everything possible to continue supporting them through this ongoing crisis.

I was lucky that my visit to Ethiopia coincided with our partner Facing Africa’s biannual surgical mission. Volunteer surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses from the UK and Ireland had come out to Addis Ababa to operate on victims of Noma and other severe facial disfigurements. You may have read about Noma in our newsletters. The word ‘Noma’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘devour’. It is a gangrenous infection that literally devours the face. It starts in one corner or the mouth and burrows down eating through bone, muscle and skin. 80% of victims die in the first two weeks. Those that survive, the so called ‘lucky’ ones, have to live with the most terrible facial disfigurement often hiding away from the public gaze becoming isolated from society. It is a disease of poverty attacking children who are malnourished and have weak immune systems often coming in the wake of other illnesses like measles or malaria. In the developed world it can be easily treated with antibiotics but in remote parts of Ethiopia there is no such medical assistance and within a day of contracting Noma a child will be severely dehydrated and will then go on to develop pneumonia and most likely die. As one of the doctors said to me, “Noma is a dark disease lurking in dark places and comes out during times of famine, pestilence and extreme poverty.”

I accompanied the Facing Africa doctors on their morning ward round. I met Noor, a 25 year old man from near Khartoum in Sudan. He had a significant Noma scar on the right-hand side of his face. Noor had a remarkable story as unlike many Noma victims he had managed to get an education in Sudan and had studied Computer Science. His English was fairly good and he explained to me that he had been told his condition was gangrenous so he had used a computer to google the word and had discovered he had Noma. He had then done further research and had found out that there are only two places in Africa you can get surgical treatment for Noma, Nigeria and Ethiopia. As Nigeria was too far he wrote to the Facing Africa team to plead his case and they agreed to see him in Ethiopia. He had travelled three days by bus to meet them.

The Facing Africa surgeon explained to me that Noor had received previous surgery in Sudan where they had taken some skin from his tongue to repair his lip and the hole in his face. But it was a botched operation that had left him with terrible scar tissue which would be impossible to repair. Apparently this is a common problem. People with Noma are so desperate that they accept help from poorly qualified doctors or resort to traditional healers. One particular healer is known to use Sulphuric acid to try and ‘cure’ the Noma with horrific consequences.

Later in the morning I was invited in to the operating theatre to witness Noor’s surgery. The two surgeons worked together to cut out the Noma damage and scar tissue around the mouth and replace it with a flap taken from Noor’s arm. The operation took 6 hours and witnessing it was not for the fainthearted! But I was fascinated to see the surgeons deftly navigating arteries, tendons and muscles to rebuild Noor’s face with such skill and craftsmanship. That evening I returned to the ward to see Noor after he had come round from the anaesthetic. Although he was still groggy and swollen he seemed very pleased with the outcome. He will now spend a month receiving post operative care before taking the long bus journey home. As I left Noor, I couldn’t help wondering what the future will hold for him. Returning home with a new face he will be a fully functioning and successful member of society and judging by his tenacity and determination to find himself help in the first place I am sure he will go far.

I feel incredibly privileged to be Chair of Ethiopiaid UK and a Board member of Ethiopiaid Ireland, and to witness firsthand the inspiring work that our partners carry out in Ethiopia often in the most challenging of circumstances. It is an honour to meet inspiring people like Noor and the Facing Africa surgeons. But none of this work would be possible without the kindness and generosity of our donors like you. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and hope that you will continue to support Ethiopiaid for many years to come. It is through partnership and long term support that we can truly make a difference.


Best wishes,

Alexandra Chapman

Chair of Ethiopiaid UK Board &
Member of Ethiopiaid Ireland Board

14th October 2016





Alexandra Chapman

Chair of Ethiopiaid UK Board &
Member of Ethiopiaid Ireland Board

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