As a child, Mulikat Okolanwon was left severely disfigured by noma, a preventable tropical disease. After undergoing several reconstructive surgeries at Sokoto Noma Hospital in northern Nigeria, which Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has supported since 2014, Mulikat studied to become a health care professional, and today she provides hygiene and mental health support to noma patients at the same hospital, in addition to raising awareness on a global stage as a noma advocate. Once stifled by social stigma, Mulikat now shares her story to give those afflicted by noma hope and resilience.
I started my life in an awkward way, not like other children. I was living with my grandparents in their village when I was infected by an unknown disease. My grandparents tried what they could, but the disease quickly got worse and destroyed my face.
I was referred to a teaching hospital near my home, where I recovered from the disease. However, it left a deadly mark on my face that hindered me from associating with people in the community. I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t go anywhere. Imagine a life where people are running away from you. I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror or have my picture taken like other people. I lived in loneliness and depression all the time.