Cleft Lips: 100 Nigerian to get free reconstructive surgeries

National Hospital
National Hospital, Abuja

About 100 Nigerian children with cleft lips and palate congenital deformity will over the next 12 months get free medical correction surgery at the National Hospital, Abuja.

Charles Ononiwu, a consultant facial surgeon and Coordinator of the national Hospital Cleft Care Team announced this at a press briefing in Abuja on Wednesday, as part of the 2017 Cleft Week.

He said the hospital will be performing the free reconstruction surgeries for the children in collaboration with the Smile Train International, an NGO that funds cleft reconstruction surgeries.

Cleft palate is a condition where human lips are not properly formed as a result of which the lips as well as the roof of their mouth are unable to close. Sufferers develop such conditions from the womb, but the developmental problem can be corrected through surgery even at adult age.

Mr. Ononiwu said the average cost for a cleft lip reconstructive surgery is about N150,000. However, the hospital will be performing the surgery and after care treatment for the patients free.

“The surgery will be done here in Abuja with local doctors and care givers, this is because we have the facilities and expertise to carry out such. This is not the first cleft surgeries we will be doing, the hospital has done about 15 reconstructive cleft surgeries under the Rapid Result Initiative programme initiated by the Minister of Health to impact on the health of the most vulnerable and poor in the society”.

“It was this effort that gave rise to a partnership with the hospital and Smile Train International to cater for 100 more children. The surgery will later be extended to adults with such challenges, and there will be free orthodontic surgery, speech therapy and Ear, Nose and throat care, ENT as post care,” he said.

He advised people with such conditions to come for the surgery “because it is free, and it is a thing of joy to be able to give these children opportunity to reclaim their dignity, because most victims are often stigmatised and hidden away from public.”

Cleft palate is a common birth condition, it can occur alone or as part of a genetic condition or syndrome. The victims often have difficulty in speaking, feeding and sometimes it affects the ears. However, surgeries restore normal functions with minimal scarring.

The Programme Assistant, West Africa for Smile Train International, Victoria Awazie, said the organisation is an international children charity with the aim of helping children with cleft palate have reconstructive surgeries.

She said the organisation, which has 75 other partners in the country, started operation in Nigeria in 2003 and had done 17, 285 free reconstructive maxillofacial surgeries.

“We hope to continue funding more surgeries in the National Hospital after they finish the 100 set of people for this batch. These is because children with cleft lips and palate are often isolated and do not live a normal life like other children. But repairing of these cleft gives them a new life and transformation to be able to associate with other children.”

Mrs. Awaize added that repairing a cleft child also helps to build the economy of a country because when a cleft is not repaired, it makes the child handicapped and difficult for social interactions.

“We are covering all the after-surgery care such as orthodontic, as many of these children have dental problem and their dentition needs to be corrected, and free speech training because most of these children do not speak properly and need to go through speech therapy.”

The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, lauded the initiative and expressed delight that the surgery will continue in the hospital, following previous ones done by the surgeons of the facility.

Mr. Adewole, who was represented at the event by the Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Jaf Momoh, said cleft surgery is something the minister was aware that the hospital was doing.

He said the hospital had performed some cleft surgeries for poor Nigerians under the Rapid Result Initiative programme initiated by the federal government.

Mr. Adewole, while thanking the team of surgeons carrying out the operation for their effort, urged them to train others so as to sustain the programme and to carry on with the surgeries especially in other parts of the country.

He also called on doctors across the country who are ready to learn to apply to the hospital for training.

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