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TV Ben’s pledge to Africa’s disfigured children

TV presenter Ben Fogle has vowed to wipe out one of the cruellest diseases after filming last night’s (Wednesday) documentary, Make Me a New Face.

The adventurer and presenter wept as he spoke to victims of Noma, a disease that eats away at children's faces, killing hundreds of thousands every year.

His BBC2 film crew, spent over two weeks visiting small villages and cut-off parts of Ethiopia, looking for Noma victims before sending them to plastic surgeons in Addis Ababa.

"The disfigurement is terrible and, in some cases, leads to children being abandoned by their family because they think he or she is cursed," says Ben, who has a six-month-old son, Ludo.

"As a dad myself, I found what I saw deeply upsetting, especially as antibiotics would eradicate the disease before it took hold,” he told the Mirror newspaper.

"It's why I've decided - hopefully with help of politicians, financiers and pharmaceutical companies - to try and wipe the disease from the planet within the next 10 years.

"It's a lofty ambition but I believe it can be achieved," said Fogle, who himself caught a flesh-eating bug that threatened to disfigure his face, while filming in Peru.

Noma is a ravaging gangrenous infection that affects the face. The victims are mainly children under the age of 6, caught in a vicious circle of poverty and chronic malnutrition. It thrives on the weak and malnourished.

The condition kills nine out of 10 people it infects, but those who do survive are left with the horrendous consequences of the disease including deformed faces and severe difficulties eating and drinking, as well as living as social outcasts.

Noma starts with mouth ulcers. If it is spotted early on, it can be stopped from spreading with mild antibiotics and proper nutrition. If left untreated, as happens in most cases, the ulcers progress to Noma at an alarming pace. The next stage is extremely painful when the cheeks or lips begin to swell and the victim's condition deteriorates. Within a few days, the swelling grows and gangrene sets in, leaving a gaping hole is left in the face.

The film focuses on three children whose lives have been blighted by Noma. They include teenager Rashid, forced to hide his face in public, Asnake, 11, whose misshapen mouth makes him dribble constantly, and 10-year-old Mestikma, abandoned by her family because of her deformity.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are about 140,000 cases of Noma each year, mainly in sub-Saharan countries but there are growing concerns it is on the rise in Africa.

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