UNSOS Supports efforts to restore smiles on the faces of Somalis with cleft lip deformities

26 Mar 2018

UNSOS Supports efforts to restore smiles on the faces of Somalis with cleft lip deformities

Baidoa  - A medical team comprising of personnel from the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the international cleft lip charity ‘Smile Train’, and Bancroft Global Development, have carried out a week-long free cleft lip and palate surgeries, at the Bay Regional Hospital in Baidoa, the administrative capital of Somalia’s South West State. 

Forty-seven patients received surgical treatment by the end of the surgical camp last Friday, against an initial target of forty. Due to a large turnout, the Bay Regional Hospital’s administration says hundreds of needy patients had been placed on a waiting list, until a similar surgical camp is held, in the near future.

“We are playing a facilitating role in mobilizing the public to come for the surgery,” explained Abdifatah Ibrahim Hashi, the Director of the Bay Regional Hospital. He said several patients had travelled from as far as Bay and Bakool regions for the surgical procedure.

The United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS), provided logistical support to this initiative, including free air transport and accommodation to the ‘Smile Train’ team, consisting of medical doctors and paramedics. Doctors from UNSOS also assisted the surgical teams on the ground.

A common disability among Somali populations, thousands in the Horn of Africa country live with the cleft lip and palate deformities for decades, due to inadequate capacity by local hospitals to carry out the corrective procedures.

Widely referred to as “faruur” in the Somali dialect, cleft lip and palate is a condition which occurs when the lip or mouth does not form fully, during the development of a fetus inside the mother’s womb.  If left untreated, the condition causes facial deformity and leads to feeding disorders and other health complications, according to the lead surgeon, Ugandan military doctor Col. Dr. James Kiyengo.

“The cleft lip is common in Somalia and we are going to try to operate on at least 50 patients by the end of this week,” Dr. Kiyengo had predicted, at the onset of the surgical camp, which took place from 17 – 23 March, 2018.

Dr. Kiyengo expressed concern that patients with cleft lip deformities in Somalia suffered social neglect, due to the stigma associated with the condition.

“The patients with cleft lip have a problem with their peers. The children are sometimes teased by others, and so they can’t go to school; they can’t talk well; they can’t spell letters such as letter ‘P.’ When they are talking, the palate stops them from speaking coherently,” he explained.

Beneficiaries of the free surgical camp say their lives have been transformed for the better. A relative to one of the beneficiaries described the remedial surgery on his younger brother as life-changing.

“We came from Mooda Mooda neighborhood. Since his face is the most important part of the body, some of his facial features have been restored and he can now freely interact with others in the community,” beamed Madey Kusow, after the successful surgery.

 “I thank the doctors and others who have brought this free surgery at our doorstep, since we could not afford to seek this corrective surgery outside the country,” he added.

While cleft lip and palate deformities are correctable through surgery, thousands of Somalis living with this condition are unable to get treatment or corrective procedures, due to unavailability of these services in the Horn of Africa country, whose health systems collapsed during the civil war in the 1990s.

The high cost of specialized surgery, has also meant that such corrective surgeries are out of reach for ordinary Somalis. The medical team was unanimous that similar medical camps should be held to provide the life-changing surgeries to needy populations.

Bancroft Global Development provided equipment for the surgical camp and trained Somali and AMISOM doctors; and paramedics from the Bay Regional Hospital, on how to carry out similar surgeries on their own. 

This is the first such a camp was being held outside the Somali capital Mogadishu. Between 2016 and 2017, a similar surgical camp successfully operated on more than 700 patients at AMISOM level II Hospital in Mogadishu.

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