KIGALI - A team of 67 medical experts from the South African foundation; Operation Smile, is in the country to perform free cliff lip and cliff palate surgeries on 240 patients in the next five days.
According to Scarlett Steer, the Media and Education Program Officer of the team, a cliff lip is a hole in the lip while a cliff palate is a hole in the roof of the mouth.
“These conditions are the most common severe birth defects in the world, and in Africa, about one in a thousand children are born with it,” she said.
“We have come to do these surgeries because many children are mocked by others and hence kept out of school or may not make friends easily due to this defect. After the operations we believe that we will psychologically and emotionally boost their esteem.”
In a recent interview, Gamaliel Binamungu, the Director General of the Health Communication Centre said that children born with such mouth deformities may fail to breast feed or breath well at infant stage.
Steer, explained that during the weekend, the experts screened over 300 patients from across the country and 240 qualified for the operations that started yesterday at the Kigali Central University Hospital (CHUK).
Majority of the cases to be operated on are children; however, a few 18-year olds and adults will benefit from the free surgeries as well.
“No one really knows the cause of these defects, but certainly, there is a genetic factor involved. The state of a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy especially the lack of folic acid is also linked to this problem, however, there is no concrete evidence of these facts,” Steer noted.
This is the first time the team is visiting Rwanda after carrying out similar services in other countries such as Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and South Africa among others.
Officials noted that the same services will be offered next year when the group visits again citing that this time round, priority was given to children with such complications and a few adults.
Steer, also added that the total cost of the surgeries is about 2 million South African Rands (Rwf154m) however, UNICEF, the Red Cross and other organizations also chipped in.
Operation Smile South Africa, is a volunteer medical services organization that provides free reconstructive facial surgery and follows up on healthcare to children and adults around Southern and Central Africa affected by cleft difficulties.
Over 130,000 children have been treated in the 27 years of the organisation’s existence.