The world’s leading cleft-focused organisation, Smile Train, says it has provided free corrective surgery to over 30,000 patients across Nigeria with cleft and palate, a condition which leaves newborn babies with split lips and opening in the upper roof of the mouth.
Speaking at a Nationwide Media Workshop for journalists in Abuja, on Monday, the Public Relations and Communications Manager of Smile Train, Africa, Emily Manjeru, disclosed that the organisation is in partnership with hospitals and medical professionals across Nigeria to render free corrective surgery to patients willing to be treated.
Manjeru said Nigeria has expertise in all areas required for successful cleft surgery, adding that cleft surgery can be carried out on a child as early as 3 months old, while palate surgery can be conducted on a child as early as 9 months.
She disclosed that across Africa, over 120,000 patients have been treated of cleft and palate while over 1.5 million have been treated globally of the condition by Smile Train.
“Smile Train is providing grant to Nigerian researchers to determine the cause of cleft. We have covered 41 African countries and growing,” she said.
While citing the World Health Organisation, WHO, she noted that every three minutes, a child is born into the world with the condition, adding that her organisation was willing to provide further treatment to patients willing to come forward for treatment.
“Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding and resources to provide free cleft surgery and essential care to children globally. Cleft machines for surgery are given absolutely free,” she said.
According to her, over 200,000 children in Africa are born with cleft, lamenting that most will never eat, speak or breath properly, make friends, have the opportunity to go to school or hold a job.
She explained that a cleft occurs when certain body parts don’t fit properly during fetal development, stating however that no medically proven cause for the condition has been identified.
Manjeru, who decried the stigma associated with the condition emphasised the need for prenatal visits to hospital before birth.
Also speaking, a Consultant Plastic Surgeon with the department of surgery at the University of Abuja, Dr Amina Abubakar, disclosed that Smile Train has 45 partners spread across Nigeria, and in every state of the federation, a hospital designated to conduct cleft surgery.
Abubakar, who has carried out over 300 successful surgeries on cleft and palate patients, said the procedure has between 80-85 per cent success, adding that if cleft surgery is correctly done, when a child grows to adulthood, he would hardly be recognised as having had the condition.
While decrying the false beliefs and stigmatisation associated with the condition, Abubakar narrated the ordeal of medical experts in trying to bring patients for the surgery as some are not willing to bring their children even after much persuasion.
She disclosed that in each surgery carried out, Smile Train spends about N500,000 covering the procedure, nutritional support to the child, speech therapy and other medical exigencies for the full recovery of the patient.
In his remarks, the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, FCT Council, Comrade Emmanuel Ogbeche, commended Smile Train for training journalists to build their capacity for proper reportage of issues around cleft and palate.
Ogbeche noted that “the media in Nigeria has a challenge of capacity; when we find organisations like Smile Train deepening the capacity of journalists, we find it ennobling.”
He urged participants at the workshop to take the training seriously to provide information that will afford opportunity for children with cleft to find access to free corrective surgery and healthcare.