In a small town called Akonolinga, which is approximately an hour outside Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, there is a strange disease going around that primarily affects children. It starts as an ulcer on the skin that quickly spreads.
Untreated, it can start to affect the bones and eventually even get into the bloodstream. If it gets to that point, there is little that can be done, and the child will often succumb to the disease. They try everything in this small village town to not let it get to that bad. They scrape away the skin, cutting out the diseased areas.
They give injections of various medicines, and they keep people in hospitals for months. I met a young boy named Naturale, who had to have his left arm amputated at the shoulder. I almost cried when I met him. By the time he came into see a doctor, the disease was too far gone, his bones literally crumbling apart. As I visited the clinic, I learned they had given this disease a name: Buruli. I also learned something that stunned me — what many in this town believe is the origin of Buruli. Witchcraft.
It goes like this — as a punishment for taking something or some other trivial thing, these children had been cursed by witches and sorcerers living in the nearby areas. Take someone else’s mango for example, and soon after the child will get an ulcer. In Naturale’s case, he was born out of wedlock, and the witches in the area thought it would be better if he were dead. I was told they cursed him with a particularly severe infection, and he barely survived. Now he stays at the hospital trying to shield himself from the wickedness that put him there in the first place.