Benin: Fighting Buruli ulcer

  • International staff: 2
  • National staff: 15 Since 1997, MSF has been working to treat Buruli ulcer in Benin, where about 2,300 cases have been recorded since 1989. The program, which involves screening, treatment and training in surgical procedures, is now moving into a second phase. Buruli ulcer is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, from the same family of bacteria that causes tuberculosis and leprosy. Found primarily in tropical and subtropical humid environments, the disease causes skin swelling, destroys tissue, and suppresses the immune system, sometimes destroying massive areas of skin and bone. Thus far, the only way to treat Buruli ulcer is through difficult and costly surgery to remove affected areas, with the possible use of skin grafts. The first phase of the MSF program emphasized treating the disease itself and training health professionals in curative and diagnostic techniques. The focus is now turning to education of the community in early detection of the disease. People are encouraged to come in early when they notice signs of the ulcer, in order to reduce the time they spend in the hospital (and away from work) and minimize aftereffects caused by large skin excisions. MSF is also trying to better understand local attitudes toward Buruli ulcer, in order to help dispel myths surrounding it - again with the aim of encouraging early detection and treatment. MSF is cooperating with the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, on research to discover the exact cause of the disease.