By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta
An unknown number of Nigerians, largely living in the rural areas, suffer the devastating consequences of cleft palate lip. Ignorance, poverty and in some cases, the superstitious belief that their affliction was caused by evil spirits, kept them in permanent sadness, bearing the burden of a curable affliction and the stigma that comes with it.
However, there is a light shining through the tunnel of the traumatic situation in the determination of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Kano, to remove the sadness on the faces of cleft palate patients, restore their self-confidence and end the stigma that can push some victims to the edge of lunacy.
But before narrating how the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) makes life easier, happier and better for those suffering from cleft palate lips, it is pertinent to say what cleft palate lip is, its causes and negative effects on the well-being of those suffering from it.
Dr. Evan Frisbee, a dentist in Jasper, Georgia , United States of America, explains the condition at webmd.com thus, “Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial and oral malformations that occur very early in pregnancy, while the baby is developing inside the mother. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not join together properly.”
Dr. Frisbee said more on it: “A cleft lip is a physical split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip and appears as a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip. This separation often extends beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or upper gum.”
Dr. Frisbee’s third description sheds more light on yet another form of the condition. “A cleft palate is a split or opening in the roof of the mouth. A cleft palate can involve the hard palate (the bony front portion of the roof of the mouth), and/or the soft palate (the soft back portion of the roof of the mouth).”
Cleft lip and cleft palate can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. Because the lip and the palate develop separately, it is possible to have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, a cleft palate without a cleft lip, or both together as explained earlier by the expert.
An entry at Better Health Channel, an online resource for health matters says, “a cleft palate or cleft lip (or both) is a birth condition in which parts of the mouth do not join up during early fetal development. The cause is unknown, although genetic factors sometimes play a role.”
That failure of parts of the mouth to join keeps the mouth agape, with swollen, twisted or broken lips, and occassionally the palate is also broken. The patient in some cases cannot control saliva, dripping from the mouth, down the chest in. Their appearance causes stigma and rejection by ignorant folks. Those with the most severe condition are shunned by peers, lacked true close friends, and often live isolated lives.
A child who benefitted from the free cleft surgery at the AKTH
Sufferers of the severe type of the condition lose speech fluency, find difficulty in eating food and drinking water because of the defects on their mouths. They are left to fend for themselves by begging in the streets and they hardly get married because of the combined factors of stigma and rejection. Painfully sad.
The entry at the Better Health Channel says that, “cleft lip or palate can be repaired through surgery.” This fact, of possible and actual hope of repairing cleft lip and plate is where the AKTH comes in by offering free treatment to patients afflicted by the condition.
Reports from the hospital quoted the Chairman of the AKTH Cleft Team, Dr Efunkoya Akinwale, a Consultant Maxillofacial Surgeon, saying that the free cleft surgery was started in the year 2018 when about one hundred cases were attended to by Dental and Maxillofacial surgeons as part of their routine activities. This was why they could not reach out to many targetted patients as they hoped for.
A child with a cleft palate condition
The hospital now has a 30-member strong Cleft Team, one of the largest Cleft Teams in Nigeria. Members of the team were drawn from different specialities and subspecialties, including Otolaryngologist, Pediatrician, Social Workers, Orthodontist,Child Dentists, Dental Nurses and Information/ Public Relations Practitioners. The hospital management plans to inject Nutritionists, dieticians and Social Mobilisation Officers to the team.
The over 100 patients treated successfully from 2018 to date have their lives normalised. Their families were happy. This has in turn deepened the relevance and importance of the AKTH as a source of succour to many citizens suffering from conditions that in the past seemed impossible to treat successfully. More patients of the condition will be treated at zero cost to them in the ongoing round of free treatment at the Children Dental Clinic of the hospital.