Little Theresa and the problem with flesh-eating diseases

Africa, Documentary

I’ve never really done a photo of the week or pic of the day sort of thing. I haven’t made this decision entirely consciously, but now I think about it I find it almost impossible to pick out a favourite. However, Internet is slow here, and the post and photos I’ve prepared of my ‘introduction week’ in Ghana will probably take a while to upload.

So I thought I’d drop a taster of two shots I took on the same day. My main ‘mission’ here is to capture images that are relevant to my leprosy project. However, on a side I’m photographing the Buruli Ulcer work that American Leprosy Missions is funding.

Without going into too many details, (as you can look it up) Buruli Ulcer causes rapidly growing (you’ve guessed it) ulcers. I suppose it’s one of those flesh-eating diseases we on occasion so happily tie in with images of deep, dark Africa. So naturally these two shots are appropriately in black and white.

It’s not gore I’m showing, although I’ve seen plenty of raw flesh in the past few days. These two shots aren’t centered around the disease, although it’s relevant in both.

This girl has had Buruli Ulcer for while, but it was only diagnosed an hour before these shots were made. The clinic she’d been too in the last couple of months had failed to diagnose the disease and as a result a small ulcer had grown into a category three case: multiple ulcerations and/or an ulcer more than 15cm at it’s greatest length.

A sample (to be confirmed in the lab) was taken before she was sent to get a dressing change:

Nine year old Theresa getting a dressing change. Kukuom, Ghana, 16-04-2012

The tears may well indicate the pain she is feeling, and the dressings did stick somewhat to her skin, much as a plaster might. However, the ulcers themselves are painless, one of the symptoms of the disease. These tears aren’t just born of a physical pain, although that may have been the trigger. They are the culmination of all the fears of something unknown happening to her body, which isn’t just worrying her, but also her mother sitting behind her. When you’re nine and your mum is scared, you know there’s something to be scared about. Adding on that the emotion of just having someone tell you they can finally fix this terrible worry, tears are more than understandable.

Theresa, her mother and Idris. Kukuom, Ghana, 16-04-2012

This photo was taken just twenty minutes later. Taking advantage of a moment to entertain little Theresa, Idris (my guide for the moment and director of Ghana’s branch of MAP international) shows her some simple exercises she can do to prevent her leg from seizing up as outer layers of muscle have rotted away. Her mum turns round in surprise having not noticed this kind man giving a little advice.

If nothing else, it shows quite how much the attitude of a nine year old can change in such a short time, even when faced with a grave situation.


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