Buruli Ulcer: The Eternal Sore
Buruli ulcer in the native Liberian language translates to “eternal sore”. In their world, once you get this flesh-eating disease, you will live with it for the rest of your life.
We don’t know how BU is transmitted. But we do know that the bacterium that causes this disease forms large sores on the skin. In the beginning, patients develop painless swellings on their limbs. As the swelling grows, it becomes more and more painful, turning into ulcers that burst.
Annie screamed in pain, but no one could help her. Her mother stood at a distance away, but had to look away because it was so difficult to watch. Sadly, this was not the last time Annie would have to go through this.
Annie is a 9-year-old girl in Bong County, Liberia. She would be attending fourth grade if she wasn’t sick.
For months Annie lived with a swelling on her leg. Her family spent all their savings trying to treat it. No one knew what it was and none of the treatments worked.
Eventually the swelling burst and Annie couldn’t walk anymore. Thankfully, a community health worker named Emmanuel heard about Annie. He suspected that Annie had Buruli ulcer and made the trip to see her.
Emmanuel was able to treat Annie, but the disease had progressed too far because Annie was diagnosed late. She needed to go to a hospital to receive a painful, daily cleaning. But the hospitals in Liberia are still recovering from the Ebola crisis. Finding a hospital bed and anaesthetics will not be easy.
Patients experience excruciating pain from the ulcers and can lose their ability to walk or use their hands. This means that they have less food to eat and even less hope for their future because they cannot work. The extreme pain makes it difficult for people to live happily, and children like Annie have to stay home because they can’t travel to school with their swollen, painful limbs.
With early diagnosis, 80% of cases can be cured. Rifampicin, streptomycin, and clarithromycin are antibiotics that can effectively control Buruli ulcer. Surgery and rehabilitation can also help to heal their wounds and improve their mobility.
But many people have a hard time getting medical care. There aren’t many health workers who are trained to recognize and diagnose Buruli ulcer in rural regions, and treatments tend to be delayed. People suffer in pain for longer, and the disease can progress to a point where it becomes difficult to treat. This is why they call it the eternal sore.
The key to eliminating suffering from BU is to make sure that health workers are trained to recognize BU along with other diseases such as leprosy. That way, they can refer patients to the appropriate treatments quickly. Gifts from our supporters help train community health workers to identify and diagnose Buruli ulcer, and also raise awareness of the disease in communities. They also help provide wound-dressing supplies and laboratory tests for health clinics.
Buruli ulcer continues to be a problem in countries like Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana. Your donations support effect:hope’s work on-the-ground directly with people suffering from BU in those countries. It is important that people can access appropriate medical care rapidly. We are working with the local government to effect changes in policy so that BU is taken as seriously as HIV/AIDS or Malaria. The health system also needs to be strengthened so it can treat all people in need in an efficient and timely way.
We hope that in the near future, Buruli ulcer will no longer be a disease that threatens the livelihoods of people, and the growth and happiness of children.
Learn more about our work in helping people with Buruli Ulcer: