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In Nigeria, children born with cleft lip & palate can now smile, says ADESEUN

By Chioma Obinna
JOSEPH and Joy Oha were so eager to have their first baby shortly after they got married nine months ago. When Joy took in, two months after their traditional  engagement,  it was all smiles. The love, which they had became more strong as every moment they spent together radiated joy, love and happiness.

But the undying joy which the couple thought they had was short lived with the arrival of their first offspring – a baby girl. Although, there were no complications during the birth of the baby but the couple would have wished to experience a little complication than a scar that they believed then was unimaginable.

Few minutes after Joy recovered from the pains of child birth, she requested to see her baby. Not even the nurses were able to face the situation that was about to ensue.

At the sight of the baby, Joy broke down in tears. With pain in her heart she screamed on top of her voice. “Are you sure this is my baby?” Behold, it is a baby girl. The couple was confronted with the pains of training this girl and reserving explanation on what to tell her when she grew into adulthood.

Although, the couple was told that the baby had what the doctors described as Cleft Lip and Palate, which could be treated after all. But accessing care was difficult. Not only do they have difficulties in providing resources to pay for the hospital bill but the lack information on where to access care. This is the situation many couples face today in Nigeria.

However, organisations like Smile Train, an international charity that provides cleft lip and palate surgery to children in needs, cleft-related training to doctors are not leaving any stone unturned in Nigeria as they are providing the information, help and free surgeries for these helpless but innocent children in 77 countries of the world and Nigeria inclusive.

According to the Country Director of Smile Train, in Nigeria, Mr. Remi Adeseun, no fewer than 5000 children are born with Cleft lip and palate in Nigeria annually and they only way to save these lives is through early corrective surgery.

Worse still, children who are affected by the deformity grow up with a stigma that often results in lack of education, poor speech and opportunistic diseases. Today,  if all adults with deformity are put together, not less than 180,000 Nigerians will be living with the deformity, which could be corrected with early surgery.

Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that happen while a baby is developing in the womb. During the 6th to 10th week of pregnancy, the bones and tissues of a baby’s upper jaw, nose, and mouth normally come together (fuse) to form the roof of the mouth and the upper lip. If the tissue in the developing mouth and the palate don’t fuse together, a baby could be born with a condition called cleft lip or cleft palate, or both.

Addressing journalists during The Smile Train Two Year’s Anniversary in Nigeria last week, the Country Director of Smile Train, Remi Adeseun  regretted that the major challenge to the deformity remains poverty.

His words, “We feel that no Nigerian should live with a cleft lip and palate because it causes depression, mockery and humiliation; some parents even kill their child born with such defects while some hid them in their various homes”

Adeseun disclosed that within Smile Train operations in Nigeria in the last two years, the organisation has put a smile on the faces of many children, mostly from indigent parents.

“We are not a medical mission, but we work through the maxillofacial surgeons, plastic surgeons, dentists, speech therapists who are based in Nigeria. We develop their capacity so that they are able to perform this surgery. All we just do is pay for every child located and slated for the surgery,” he said. “We are therefore appealing to parents who gave child born with this deformity to go to our partner hospitals.”

The cost of procuring a corrective surgery for a child in hospitals that are partners with Smile Train is N37, 500; otherwise, the actual cost of a corrective surgery is N97, 500.

Chairperson of the Nigerian Association of Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons, Dr. Gbenga Ogunlewe, who confirmed that treatment  for cleft lip and palate has been very rewarding in Nigeria explained that the etiology (cause) of the deformity is still unknown but stated that there are certain genetic and environmental factors that could be linked to it.

Ogunlewe who is also in charge of The Smile Train programme at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) said genetic factors may be as a result of the absence of a gene or one replaced by another. Environmental causes are attributed to certain drugs such as Thalidomide, anti-convulsant drugs, certain diseases such as lack of vitamin B 12, folic acid.

Advising women to be careful during the first trimester of pregnancy, Ogunlewe lamented that these children go through a lot of stigma because most parents, in their ignorance, believe they are cursed by God, or its bad omen.

She noted that children with cleft lip and palate have other congenital abnormality such as club feet, deformed ears, and due to the opening between the mouth and the nose.

“These children are frequently exposed to upper respiratory tract infections.  The first thing you notice about such a child is the aesthetics their appearance is not good, and that’s why a lot of people do seek help while some hide them away. Such children cannot feed well. They have teeth that are not properly arranged and, in cases of late intervention, the speech is affected”

However, a total grants of  $41,000 for purchase of vans and outreach equipment was doled out by Smile Train to a Nigerian-based NGO, Grassroots Smile Initiative through Dr.Ademola Adebola , a Consultant Maxillofacial surgeon with the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital Kano.

While Dr. Ifeanyi Chukwu, a plastic surgeon was also given $45,380 for the same purpose by Smile Train.

The Organisation is also calling on Non- Governmental Organisation working in the area of Club feet, child blindness to come forward for grants.


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