Over 300 children born with cleft lips annually

At least 300 children are born with cleft lips in the country every year, while the backlog of patients with the deformity is estimated at 4,000, new records show.
A patient with cleft lips. At least 300 children are born with the deformity in the country annually, officials say. Saturday Times/ Timothy Kisambira.
A patient with cleft lips. At least 300 children are born with the deformity in the country annually, officials say. Saturday Times/ Timothy Kisambira.

At least 300 children are born with cleft lips in the country every year, while the backlog of patients with the deformity is estimated at 4,000, new records show.

These figures were revealed, yesterday, during the launch of Smile Rwanda, a joint collaboration between Operation Smile and Smile Train, with an aim of creating a cleft-free Rwanda.

Cleft lip is a malformation where the lip has not fused together and fully-formed and looks like a gap in the upper lip, while a cleft palate is a hole in the roof of the mouth.

Smile Rwanda, in collaboration with the two organisations, will be providing free cleft lips and palate surgery as well as train Rwandan medical professionals who will also take part in treating patients.

Natalie Miller, the vice president of Operation Smile in Africa, said cleft lip could be hereditary or sometimes the cause is unknown.

She said the deformity has also been linked to lack of folic acid during the first trimester of pregnancy, adding that other associated causes could include smoking and drinking alcohol although most times, the cause is unknown.

Miller said so far, at least 18,000 patients in Rwanda have had free cleft lips/palates surgery, adding that a national data base is yet to be established to get the exact number of people with this defect in Rwanda.

She added that one-in-10 children born with a cleft lip  die before their first birthday,  especially due to difficulty in feeding caused by the deformity on the lips and mouth.

Common facial defect

Cleft lips are one of the most common facial defects in the world, according to Dr Gitahi Githinji, the regional representative for Operation Smile in Africa.

Dr Githinki said although causes are unknown, some are associated with environment, nutrition and toxins.

Dr Anita Asiimwe, the State minister in-charge of Public Health and Primary Healthcare, said Rwandan medics are being trained to build their capacity in being able to treat patients with Cleft lips once the other organisations close shop in Rwanda.

“Rwandan medics are being trained so that when the duration of the project ends, there is continuity of treatment for cleft lips patients. We’re working towards a cleft-free Rwanda,” Dr Asiimwe said.

She warned the public against stigmatising those with Cleft lips, but instead help them find assistance at the health facilities.

Dr Asiimwe said those with the deformity and need help can also call the Health ministry’s toll free line, 114.

Smile Rwanda will be focusing on building cleft teams in Rwamagana, Ruhengeri and Gihundwe hospitals.

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