Buruli ulcer is a flesh-eating disease related to leprosy that attacks and destroys the flesh. Tragically, more than 50% of Buruli victims are under the age of 15. The World Health Organization reports thousands of Buruli ulcer cases in 30 countries, mainly in West Africa.
Though the disease starts out as a seemingly innocent bump on the skin, underneath massive ulcerations eat away the flesh and sometimes the bone. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent deformity, permanent physical pain, social stigmatization and sometimes life-threatening secondary infections.
People with Buruli ulcer often report the same economic and emotional devastation experienced by people with leprosy. Their unsightly wounds frighten neighbors and families who respond with fear and superstition. Buruli ulcer can be treated with eight weeks of daily injections of antibiotics. Severe cases require surgery and skin grafts. Treatment requires many months of expensive hospitalization. The average cost to cure and care for a person affected by Buruli ulcer is $600, much more than the average yearly income in places like Ghana. Since 2000, American Leprosy Missions has invested more than $2.3 million in caring for people affected by Buruli ulcer and has helped to start Buruli ulcer control programs in three countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Buruli Ulcer Facts
- Can eat flesh and sometimes bone
- Can cause deformity, disability, permanent scarring and fatal infections
- Thousands of cases each year in more than 30 countries, mostly in West Africa
- 50% of victims are under the age of 15
- 30% of those infected are at risk of becoming permanently disabled
- Related to leprosy; caused by the germ Mycobacterium ulcerans
- Identified by World Health Organization as one of the most Neglected Tropical Diseases
- Disease transmission is not yet understood
- Treatment is 8 weeks of daily injections of antibiotics
- Severe cases require surgery and skin grafts
- Disease is feared – thought to result from a curse or witchcraft
- Affected people are ostracized