How many of you watched the absolutely compelling programme 'Make me a new Face' on BBC2 last evening? I expected to be totally turned off and revolted by it, but at the end I felt absolutely uplifted by the sheer bravery and fortitude of these young people. If you didn't watch it but would like to know about it I have put a tentative link on my sidebar. Linking is a new skill which I have yet to master properly, so it will take you to the site by a rather circuitous route - but you will get there - and I promise you that you will be inspired.
Noma is a completely curable disease if it is caught in time - curable by antibiotics - those little pills we take so foregranted.
It starts off as a simple infection, often the result of malnutrition, but if left untreated then it eventually either kills or severely maims the sufferer. That maiming is to the face and believe me it makes grotesque faces for these children. So grotesque in fact that their parents usually abandon them, believing that they have been possessed by an evil spirit.
The star of the show was Mestikma - a little girl abandoned by her parents but fostered by a middle class Ethiopian family (we were in Ethiopia, where many of the cases occur). The untouched half of her face was that of a pretty, bright-eyed little girl. The other half - always covered by a scarf which she held permanently in her teeth to stop it falling off - was so terrible that it is impossible to describe it.
Once a year a team of highly skilled plastic surgeons from the UK make the journey over there to operate on as many sufferers as they can find (markets are trawled to find these people).
At the end of the programme I was left stunned by these brilliant, unflappable men and women who performed these horrific operations using drills, chisels and hammers and who rebuilt to acceptable faces.
In the case of Mestikma they could only do the first of several operations and they will continue next year, but already she looks considerably less grotesque. One other little boy, who had been hidden away by his loving family, was - by the end of the programme - the leader of the gang playing handball with balloons and smiling all over his rebuilt face.
The programme still haunts me - not least because Ethiopia looks such a fertile country (and a very beautiful one). I know they have suffered droughts in the past but at present the countryside is incredibly green and beautiful. So why are they so poor that the children suffer malnutrition to the extent that their features distort so badly?
How can we in the West worry about such trivial things when children in Africa are living such terrible lives?
I cannot help feeling that, like most of these things, it is the politicians who make the crises - these simple country people were living hard-working lives, mostly on the land and yet they did not have access to antibiotics - those life-saving pills which have become part of our lives so that we ask for them almost indiscriminately.
If you have time, do go to the site and have a read about it.
And, while we are on the subject of Television, why is it that TV 'critics' always have to snipe at someone. The programme was presented by Ben Fogle. The Times critic, Andrew Billen, had to put the knife in, calling him someone who lived a life of 'supreme macho selfishness' and complaining that the camera loved his face far too much. Anyone watching the programme could not help but be moved by the way in which Fogle identified with the noma victims and the joy with which they greeted him when he returned to see them.
Read about it - and prepare to be greatly moved.