Operation Smile Ghana, an NGO providing health care for cleft patients, in collaboration with the Cape Coast Teaching Hospital (CCTH), has successfully undertaken free surgeries for 30 persons, mostly girls under five, to correct their defects. The patients, who also included a few adults, were born with either cleft lip or cleft palate, and in some cases, both. A cleft is a gap or split in the upper lip or roof of the mouth (palate) present from birth which disfigures the face and/or causes speech defects. The three-day comprehensive health exercise was conducted by a 45-member team of medical volunteers, including surgeons, paediatricians, anaesthesiologists and other allied health staff who took an average of 45 minutes on each patient. Beyond the surgery, the patients were also provided nutrition, speech therapy and dental care supports. The gesture, which formed part of activities marking CCTH's silver jubilee, was also used to train some staff of the hospital to enable them build capacity for cleft surgeries. Mr Elikem Nyavor, Country Manager for Operation Smile Ghana, observed that many children born with cleft palate in particular, continued to die from malnourishment due to lack of proper feeding. He said the food they ate usually came through their nose as most mothers lacked understanding on how to properly breastfeed such babies. He added that those who survived cleft palate grew up speaking through the nose if the gap was not closed. He said many societies attributed cleft to spiritual causes for which reason children born with the condition were subjected to stigma. 'Mothers have had to lose their homes and fathers have denied their children because in their whole lineage, nobody has been born with that condition,' he observed. However, Mr Nyavor explained that cleft was only a biological flaw, which could be corrected with medical procedures and urged parents to seek early medical attention. He estimated that Ghana had a backlog of about 10,000 cleft cases which needed medical care. It was therefore crucial to prioritise strengthening the health system through training to decentralise comprehensive care for cleft patients for easy access by the public, he indicated. 'That is why we are working to ensure that going forward, cleft patients will be able to walk into CCTH to receive comprehensive care. 'What it means is that all year round, patients can receive surgery without having to wait for Operation Smile Ghana,' he added. Dr Stephen Laryea, the Medical Director of CCTH, observed that the collaboration with Operation Smile Ghana over the years had been fruitful because people who were previously abandoned by families had been reintegrated into the society after treatment. He added that the hospital was also getting more skilled staff to undertake the surgeries, hoping that they would soon start conducting the surgeries by themselves to serve the public. He encouraged parents and guardians with cleft babies to immediately report to a health facility to seek help. 'These children lose their self-esteem when they grow up and so don't hide them in the room. Such a short surgery will change their lives in the long run,' he advised.
Source: Ghana News Agency