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Noma in Laos: Stigma of Severe Poverty in Rural Asia

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  • 1 Health Frontiers, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Ministry of Health, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Ear, Nose and Throat Department, Mahosot Hospital, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; UXO Awareness, Phoenix Clearance Ltd., Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Interplast, Melbourne, Australia; Francophone Institute of Tropical Medicine, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Amade Foundation, Brussels, Belgium; Wellcome Trust–Mahosot Hospital–Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration, Mahosot Hospital, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Centre for Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, United Kingdom; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom
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Noma, or cancrum oris, is a debilitating necrotizing ulcerative stomatitis that destroys the mouth and face. It usually starts in early childhood and is associated with severe poverty, malnutrition, and infections. It is most frequently described from sub-Saharan Africa but is under-reported. There have been very few reports from Asia. We describe the clinical and social features of a series of 12 patients with noma from remote poor villages in rural Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos). Noma is an ominous stigma of severe poverty and the description of this disease emphasizes the importance of poverty reduction and nutritional improvement in Lao development. In the meantime, more awareness of the problem and the importance of early therapy in acute noma by primary health care workers may reduce mortality and prevent progression to severe disfigurement.