Global cleft charity Smile Train has partnered with the County Government of Meru to avail cleft-lip surgeries for free at the Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital (MeTRH).
Speaking during the inaugural cleft lip camp at MeTRH, Smile Train Vice President and Regional Director for Africa Dr. Esther Njoroge-Muriithi noted that myths and misconceptions that surround cleft-lip continue to hinder access to free surgery which takes less than an hour.
She urged the community to visit the facility and register to receive treatment at no cost.
“There is still a huge backlog of patients lacking access to safe and quality surgeries. Patients born with cleft lips are often isolated and stigmatized due to lack of awareness about cleft lip and palate, she said.
Dr. Njoroge noted that Smile Train has invested heavily in capacity building of the cleft lip ecosystem which includes Community Health Volunteers, nurses and surgeons to ensure that they administer high-quality care for children undergoing cleft-lip surgery at community level.
She pointed out investment on capacity building of the health personnel will ensure that patients receive treatment on a regular basis at MeTRH.
According to Paul Mwai the Director for Henry Family Advised Fund under The Global Alliance cleft-lip and palate is categorized as one of the neglected surgical diseases which when treated can bring economic prosperity to the country.
Mwai said the mobilization to mop up and register patients for surgery began in February 2019 with training of community health volunteers courtesy of Henry Family Advised Fund under The Global Alliance for Surgical, Obstetric, Trauma, and Anesthesia Care (G4 Alliance).
He said the local surgeons will continue to build their capacity through the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) and Mount Kenya University.
The Meru Referral Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dr. James Kirimi acknowledged the public private partnership, noting that it improved the quality of healthcare at local level.
“The Government is committed to achieving Universal Health Coverage and reach more than 7,000 Kenyans with cleft lip and palate. Our medical team has received training in cleft-lip care and we look forward to continuous capacity building of our team. We urge patients to shun stigma and isolation of cleft patients since treatment is now readily available and for free,” said Dr. Kirimi.
Quresha Adan a beneficiary of the programme said she heard about the free surgery in the media and decided to bring her three year old baby who was born with cleft lips and she has been experiencing difficulties in breast feeding.
“I have to express milk to feed the baby using a syringe which is cumbersome, at times she vomits due to her condition,” she said.
She had initially tried to take her daughter to a private hospital where she was charged sh. 100,000 an amount which was high for her family to raise.
“We laud the government and other private donors for offering free surgeries to families, we believe our children will lead a normal life,” said Adan.
Janet Kamamu said her daughter had to drop out of school due to stigma by other pupils. She is optimistic that her daughter will lead a normal life after undergoing surgery.
According to the G4 Alliance, an estimated 5 billion people live without access to safe, and affordable surgical and anesthesia care. Safe surgical care is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and universal health coverage. Every year, 17 million people die of preventable deaths due to neglected surgical diseases.
Cleft lip and palate is a common facial birth defect that affects one in 700 globally. Its cause remains unknown, but it is associated with genetics, nutritional deficiency (inadequate folic acid), smoking and drinking, and taking medication without prescription during pregnancy.
Smile Train has been actively supporting programmes in Africa since 2002. In that time, the organization has developed local partnerships with more than 245 partner hospitals and 255+ medical partners in 38 countries throughout Africa to provide free cleft treatment. To date, Smile Train’s local medical partners have provided more than 113,000 life-changing cleft surgeries across Africa.
By Muguongo Judy