Campaign to cure yaws

The National, Thursday July 14th, 2016

WHEN Dr Oriol Mitjà, a Spanish technical adviser for the World Health Organisation, arrived in Lihir Island, he expected to stay only for a month.
But after meeting hundreds of children covered in debilitating lesions, he stayed on, found a cure for their ailment, and spurred an international campaign that, if successful, will lead to the eradication of the disease.
“Yaws is an infection caused by a bacteria that is transmitted by direct contact,” Mitjà told the UN News Centre this week in an interview at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Transmitted by skin contact, the disease affects mostly children between the ages of five and 15.
It appears as multiple lesions which eat away at faces, arms and hands, and deepen to the bones, disfiguring the child.
Yaws is part of a family of disabling diseases that affect the skin (along with leprosy), preventing children from attending school and placing an economic burden on local communities.
“Yaws is a neglected tropical disease,” Mitjà said.
“It affects the communities in rural and remote areas, which do not have access to the media and to policy decision-making people. So no one cares about them.”
These people live “where the roads end” and where extreme poverty begins, and with its overcrowding, lack of sanitation and few opportunities for medical services.
It is the name of a new documentary film by director Noemí Cuní, highlighting Mitjà’s crusade to eradicate Yaws. “What really moved us to do the documentary was the strength of the doctor,” Cuní said.
“His conviction with his mission of helping all people in the world, and his iron will in fighting and researching until he found this cure that affects mainly children.”
The cure is one tablet of an inexpensive antibiotic, Azithromycin.