Neglected tropical diseases

Buruli ulcer: the case for early treatment

16 July 09 | Geneva

©Ms L. Lehman, Brazil

Buruli ulcer mainly affects the skin and bones. The organism that causes the disease is a toxin-producing environmental pathogen called Mycobacterium ulcerans which, although different, belongs to the same family of organisms that cause leprosy and tuberculosis.

Buruli ulcer starts as a painless, mobile swelling in the skin. Left untreated, it develops into severe skin manifestations, leading to extensive destruction of the skin and soft tissue, resulting in irreversible disability. The disease, once almost unknown, has now been reported from more than 30 countries with tropical and subtropical climate.

In Africa, Buruli ulcer is commonly associated with erroneous beliefs and witchcraft and people suffering from this severe skin condition are often ostracized and socially marginalized.

In Australia, where it is also known as 'Bairnsdale ulcer' researchers are trying to learn more about the natural habitat of the pathogen and its mode of transmission.

Play now audio summary–Buruli ulcer
00:07:21 [mp3 4,20Mb]

“People should not hesitate to seek early treatment …….. it isn't any disease that is caused by witchcraft, a curse or a magic"

Emmanuel Aguma, Buruli ulcer patient, Bugri, Northern Ghana

"In the past because of surgery, our work was limited to facilities that had surgery. Now with antibiotics that can be administered at lower level health facilities, we have moved a step down … to reinforce the capacities of health centres which are much closer to patients … this will address some of the hindrances to early care-seeking"

Dr. Kingsley Asiedu, Medical Officer in charge of Buruli ulcer, Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases, Geneva

"… in the last 12 to 24 months, we started to shift our focus away from water … and the source of the bacterium and to look into specific niches … we found for example that mosquitoes can harbour the bacterium that causes Buruli ulcer …"

Dr. Tim Stinear, senior research fellow, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne, Australia.

To listen to a broader excerpt of the sound bites contained in this audiocast, click on the links below.

Emmanuel Aguma's interview | Kingsley Asiedu's interview | Tim Stinear's interview

More information:
If you need more information please visit the NTD web site on Buruli ulcer: Buruli ulcer website or send an e-mail to:

Video The Mystery Disease (Buruli ulcer), winner of the International Health and Medical Media Awards, 2004. English | French