By Biodun Busari

A medical team from Nigeria has landed in the neighbouring West African country of Sierra Leone to perform free cleft palate surgeries for children suffering from the condition.

A cleft palate is an opening or split in the roof of the mouth that occurs when the tissue doesn’t fuse together during development in the womb.

According to Sierraloaded, the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone in partnership with surgeons from Nigeria commenced free cleft palate surgery on children that have been suffering from the condition on Monday.

People from Kabala, Port Loko in Kafu Bullon chiefdom, and other parts of the country including neighbouring Guinea and Liberia will also benefit from the service.

While addressing patients and other community members, the Medical Superintendent of Kenema Government Hospital, Dr Ibrahim Mark Kapuwa said this is the third time free cleft palate surgery has been conducted at the hospital.

Kapuwa noted that most children that have been living with the disease have been discriminated against in their communities by connecting it with witchcraft.

“We want people to know that cleft is not witchcraft or disobeying culture of the society but an abnormal function by the immune system,’’ he said.

The doctor appreciated the Nigerian medical team for sympathising with the children in Sierra Leone and said the team will not only be performing surgeries but will also help train medical staff with additional skills in cleft surgery. He said even when they would have left the country, the surgery will continue to be done by Sierra Leonean medical officers, free of cost.

The report also revealed that more than a hundred children will be beneficiaries of the free surgery, adding that Kenema hospital will be the hub in managing all cleft palate cases in the country.

The District Medical officer Kenema, Dr Donald Samuel Grant said they were happy to receive their colleague medical practitioners from Nigeria to help children that have been struggling with the abnormality.

He stated that Kenema district serves as a focal point for patients from Kailahun, Kono, Bo, and Pujehun and that treatment will help change the perception of people who have the view that children with cleft palates are bewitched.

Consultant Cleft Surgeon Dr Akinkubo Olugebemi Benedict expressed appreciation to the host team for the reception accorded them saying that their action is a service every medical practitioner stands to do in serving humanity.

He said seeing children with a cleft does not make the medical practitioners and the patients happy, and that they want to bring smiles to their faces. He said more training will be provided for the health staff in Kenema so that they can continue to do the surgery even in their absence.

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“As Africans, we should be helping each other and not always depending on the western world to support our health system,” Benedict said.

He urged relatives of those children not to stop coming to the hospital, saying that some children may need more than one surgery.

The Programme Manager, Smile Train West Africa, Victoria Awazi said coming with experts will build the capacity of the health workers in Kenema because they will not always be bringing doctors from other countries to do the operations.

She stated that parents whose children have undergone successful surgery should serve as ambassadors in encouraging others to bring their children to Kenema for cleft surgery as she said children with the disease are not demons and can gain their full health with the help of Smile Train.

Fatimata Samura from Kabala whose baby is a beneficiary of the operation thanked the doctors and then narrated how she was ashamed to take her to public places. She said with successful surgery, she will go and tell other women that are having children with a similar condition to go to the Kenema hospital for the surgery.

The free surgery will last some four weeks but it will continue to be undertaken by the Sierra Leonean doctors at the Kenema government hospital.

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