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0800SMILETRAIN: For that child, a smile is just a call away

May 27 every year provides opportunity to celebrate the Nigerian child. A particular group of children for no fault of theirs would definitely  not be part of this celebration even in their homes.

They are children born with cleft lip and palate. For them, the usual children’s day fun may remain a dream unless something is done to correct this birth defect.

This year, SMILETRAIN used the opportunity of the children’s  day celebration to  flag-off  a major campaign  aimed at putting smiles on the faces of Nigerian children grappling with the pains of cleft lip and palate as well as call on Nigerians to stop stigmatising them.

“Our charge is  cleft lip is a defect that can be corrected and if you can’t help anyone with problem please don’t stigmatise the person; simply call on us or take them to our service centers for a free surgery”, says Remi Adeseun, Regional Director West Africa, SmileTrain.

Part of the campaign includes the launch of a toll free line 0800SMILETRAIN which is expected to bring the services closer  by engendering fast and easy referrals to service points and surgeries especially for poor families based in rural communities.

The campaign which commenced early May is expected to reduce the growing burden of cleft birth in Nigeria by scaling up its free corrective surgeries  and making it accessible to Nigerian families who desperately need them and also changing the perception of Nigerians about the problems of cleft lip and palate.

There are about 27,000 cleft birth per year in Africa and Nigeria accounts for about  25% of this figure.

Cleft lip and palate is a type of deformity caused  by abnormal facial development during pregnancy. The real cause of cleft lip is not known, but there are certain genetic and environmental factors noted to cause the deformity  which often develops within the first week of pregnancy .

Factors may be as a result of the absence of  a gene or one gene replaced by another, says Dr. Gbenga Ogunlewe, President, Nigerian Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Ogunlewe said other causes are attributed to certain drugs such as Thalidomide, anti-convulsant drugs, certain diseases such as lack of vitamin b12,folic acid. “That is why we advise pregnant women to be careful about what they take in the first trimester of pregnancy”, she added.

As a new born baby, being mistaken for a monster may not mean so much. However, the child would have to grapple with the pain and frustration of trying to hold on to the mother’s nipples while suckling. That can be hellish as the child may have to go hungry often.

As months roll into years, and  the child becomes conscious of his looks, he is confronted with  another problem :the anguish of stigma, isolation and sometimes death.

“Adults who survive these gruesome treatment  face even severe hardship and life-long suffering: They are unable to eat or speak properly, they are unable to attend school, they can’t find  jobs or participate in society as they  are kept hidden in shame by families and communities”, says  Remi Adeseun, Regional Director, SmileTrain, West Africa.

Kabir – a seven months baby  from Kaduna was  saved this ordeal  shortly after SmileTrain arrived Nigeria. Kabir was born with a bilateral cleft lip and this had a devastating impact on his appearance. Whenever his mother took him out in public, they were the subject of curious stares and ridicule. So, looking out for her son’s best interests, Kabir’s mother kept him hidden away at home.

Kabir’s mother never considered abandoning her son, but at the same time she was very fearful for his future. Her fears gave way for hope when a family told her about the SmileTrain free cleft lip service at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria.

“It is disheartening  when you discover  that people are still suffering for a problem for which help and stress free solution  has been made available”, says Adeseun.  He hinted that in two years ,this problem  have been reduced by about 2,000 in Nigeria and SmileTrain appears set to even conduct more free cleft  surgeries across the 36 states of the country.

“We are only bothered about one problem in the world and that is cleft lip and palate and we believe we can reduce this problem one surgery at a time”, says Adeseun.

Founded in 1999 by Brian Mullaney former Senior Vice President, Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson and Vice President, Creative Director at Young & Rubicam and Charles Wang co_founder of Computer Associates International, Smile Train has the  mission of providing free cleft lips and palate surgery for children in developing countries and providing free cleft-related training for doctors and medical professionals.

By March 2008, Smile Train had performed more than 280,000 cleft surgeries in 74 countries. By 2009, when the organization celebrated its tenth year, it had assisted over 500,000 children.

Smile Train uses technology including surgery-training software and grading of operations via digital imaging to increase efficiency.

Aside changing the lives of Nigerian children born with cleft lip and surgery and putting smiles on their faces, Adeseun hinted that Smile Train is also engaged in deliberate and sustained capacity building programmes for Nigerian plastic and maxillofacial surgeons involved in its free cleft programmes. Save a child today! Call 0800SMILETRAIN.


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