From patient to advocate: Mulikat's journey beyond noma

8 Mar 2021

Mulikat is a survivor of noma and a hygiene officer at the MSF-supported Noma Children’s Hospital in Sokoto, in northwest Nigeria. More than twenty years ago, she came from Lagos to Sokoto to seek medical care and find hope. Today, she supports other people affected by noma and adds her voice to MSF advocacy for survivors of this devastating and neglected disease. Here is her testimony.

As a survivor, living with the sequela of noma is hard. Nobody wants to associate with you, nobody wants to talk to you, because of discrimination and stigma. But there is a way out: surgery brings a chance to heal. For a survivor of noma, coming to the Sokoto hospital is life-changing. Before I started my treatment, I had lost hope, but after the operations,
I began to understand that I am still a human being like others.

The person who helped me realise it was Dr Adeniyi [Dr Adeniyi Adetunji, a Doctor from Nigerian Ministry of Health (MoH) in the Sokoto hospital]. He has changed everything for me. He motivated me go back to school. At that point,
I did not even want to try it, because of the stigma, because of how people looked at me whenever I came near them. But Dr Adeniyi encouraged me. He told me that I should see myself as a changed person. He wanted me to go to the community and to give back. So I went, and found motivation and courage.

At school, I studied health record management. In 2018, MSF offered me a job. If it hadn’t been for that offer, I don’t know where I would be, as I had nowhere to go. Today, I am a hygiene officer, working with cleaners and patients in the hospital. I make sure the environment is clean and I talk to patients and caregivers about personal hygiene. I also help our mental health team to support noma survivors, who are just like me in the past. I share with them my experience. I tell them that they should be very strong and that things will get better. They know I was in their situation before, some of them have even seen my picture taken before the surgeries. But look at me now! As long as there is life, there is hope, and with hope, there is nothing you cannot do.

My MSF colleagues are easy to work with and they see me as they see themselves. There is no stigma. I am very happy that they have accepted me in the organisation, it’s a great joy for me. We also have another colleague in the hospital, working for MoH, who is a survivor of noma, Dahiru. He works as a cleaner.

Doctors in Sokoto hospital should continue to empower patients and encourage them to return to school, so that they can become advocates. It’s a long journey, but when patients go back to the community after surgeries, they go back different. When you look at me, you can see that I have been through something difficult in life. But I don’t think about my past anymore. My goal is to inspire people. I want to share my story, so that everyone knows that noma is real and that there is ability in disability.