In 2019, Roger Milla created Noma Fund association, alongside Joseph-Antoine Bell and the medical epidemiologist Dr Georges-Barthélémy Nko’Ayissi.
Focus on this commitment of the “old lion”, who wants to make things happen so that Noma disease is no longer a scourge for the world’s poorest children.
Mr. Milla, we don’t present you anymore. Former international footballer, you have played in France and Cameroon, where you have had many successes.
Why did you decide to get involved more specifically in the fight against Noma?
I have indeed had the chance to experience some great moments throughout my football career. By creating Noma Fund, I want to put my notoriety and energy at the service of causes that are close to my heart. When I discovered Noma disease, I immediately understood that it was time to act.
I thought I had already seen a lot of suffering through all the humanitarian actions I had undertaken in the past in Africa, especially through my involvement in the Foundation “Cœur d’Afrique”.
When in 2018 I became aware of Noma disease, I saw the suffering of sick children and their families, but above all I was struck by the injustices that this disease represents. It should be noted that 90% of children affected by Noma do not survive! It was a number that upset me.
What is your vision of Noma disease?
Noma is the disease of poverty, it is a real tragedy. Poverty has a number of dramatic consequences: malnutrition, lack of awareness of the importance of good oral hygiene, lack of resources for the detection of the disease, lack of health care professionals, lack of medical equipment, lack of appropriate facilities to receive sick children and their families… Each of these deficiencies only worsens the risk factors for the occurrence of Noma disease. This is a profound injustice to me.
Nevertheless, behind your speech, there is a note of hope. What keeps you optimistic about this tragedy?
When I was told that a child could be saved with a dose of antibiotics, I immediately understood that solutions existed ! That is why I decided to fully engage in this fight, which closely affects the respect for the rights of the child.
Today, your commitment has led to the creation of Noma Fund. Can you tell us more about this?
Noma Fund is a non-profit association that collects funds to raise awareness and education among at-risk populations, as well as to care for, assist and support disfigured children who have survived Noma. The association’s project is to eradicate Noma disease by 2030 in African countries: this represents a decade, a decade during which our objectives are planned.
Through Noma Fund, I invite all public and private initiatives, individual and collective good will from all over the world to join us in this fight, so that our children affected by Noma, and especially those who survive it, can regain their dignity.
I am not the only celebrity who is committed to the fight against Noma. Former goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell is also co-founder of the association. In addition, the project “Acting against Noma 2021-2030” is supported by former international Samuel Eto’o.
What are the specific goals of Noma Fund?
Above all, we must mobilize world opinion. This disease existed in Europe not so long ago, and with advances in health, Noma has been eradicated. I think that as many people as possible need to know this, in order to be outraged by this tragedy that is affecting the poorest countries in Africa, South-East Asia and South America.
Then, it is necessary to raise awareness among the populations that may be exposed to the disease. Initially, 10 African countries are concerned: Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal. The aim is to carry out preventive actions by helping the poorest families to understand the importance of nutrition and oral hygiene. The aim is also to make them aware of the existence of this disease so that as soon as the first symptoms appear, they can quickly go to a health centre and save their child.
It is also necessary to set up local structures for rapid care and rehabilitation centres for victims of the disease. These structures must be completely built in certain regions or specialize within existing structures. These structures are important to identify, treat and support the child and enable him/her to regain dignity and meaning in life in the long term.
Finally, the ultimate objective is to build a reference hospital in Cameroon to receive the most serious cases. This hospital will be managed by African medical staff gradually trained in maxillofacial surgery.
Who are the partners of Noma Fund?
They are numerous ! This is why in each target country there will be a technical coordination team. This team will work with departmental authorities. It is therefore with the support of the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Affairs of each country that we will be able to achieve our objectives.
Thus, governments, nursery schools, primary schools, health centres, local associations, existing charities and of course families are the first partners of Noma Fund.
For the construction project of the reference hospital in Cameroon, the government has already granted us a 10,000 m² plot of land very close to the airport, thus facilitating the travel of the most affected children from the ten target countries.
How, as a private citizen, is it possible to effectively fight against Noma?
There are indeed 3 ways to participate in this project, and to support the fight against Noma:
Each donation will help finance the various actions planned within the project “Acting against Noma 2021-2030”, including prevention and awareness campaigns, construction of the hospital, deployment of volunteers, provision of antibiotics and oral hygiene kits… All these actions require large-scale resources, in the many villages and large cities of the ten participating countries.
This petition, which reminds us of the appalling number of 140,000 children affected with Noma each year, will be sent to the Heads of State members of the G20 and the United Nations. This will raise awareness among Heads of State and their teams of the existence of the disease, in order to prevent Noma from remaining a neglected disease. I hope that in this way they will understand the tragedy experienced by the victims, and that they will, like us, make the fight against Noma an absolute priority.
The more members there will be, the more the fight against Noma will be known and the greater the chances of eliminating the disease within the decade of the project. Members will be regularly updated on the progress of actions in the field and will inform their family, friends and professional entourage.