Somalia launches first ever-cleft lip and palate surgery clinic

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The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), is offering free corrective surgery to children and adults with cleft lip and palate deformities. The surgical mission is taking place at the AMISOM Level ll Hospital in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.

A team of doctors from AMISOM with partners from the international cleft lip charity ‘Smile Train’ and ‘Bancroft Global Development’ launched the surgical camp expected to benefit at least 300 people.

“Cleft lip and palate entails two or three operations. It includes also a speech therapist, psychologist and dentists and odontologist to correct the deformed teeth. So you find that it adds up to something like US$1,000. That’s unaffordable. But apart from the unaffordability, the availability of plastic surgeons in Mogadishu is not something easy to come by at the moment. The availability of the technology, technical personnel to carry out such surgeries and the facilities is unthinkable because the hospitals and resources are few,” Dr. Col. James Kiyengo, the head surgeon explains.

Cleft lip and palate is a condition that occurs when a baby’s lip or mouth does not form fully during pregnancy. A cleft lip can either be a small or large opening that goes through the lip to the nose. A cleft palate occurs when the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth does not join together during pregnancy.

Sheikh Aweys Mohamed, 29, a resident of Mogadishu was born with the malformation, which has also affected his speech.

“I heard from a friend that AMISOM hospital was conducting the operations. He told me that opportunity knocks only once and that I had to take it seriously, and so I shared the news with my parents. They agreed and asked my uncle to escort me to the AMISOM hospital. He signed the consent forms for the surgery; and here I am waiting to be operated on,” Aweys said.

Doctors says Aweys has one of the severest cases of cleft lip. But, he is just one among thousands living with this deformity in Somalia.

Khadija Hassan Noor, a 33 year old mother, brought her six-month old daughter Safia to the medical camp, for a possible surgery.

“I would like my daughter to undergo the operation, but my concern is that I may be required to stay with her here for some time and may be unable to provide for my family and children back home, as my husband does not have a job,” she said.

A teenager, 19-year-old Fatuma Osman Yusuf and her eight month old son Sayid, also suffer the same condition.

“We heard about the cleft lip operations from a family member who brought us here today,” Fatuma said, adding that she was hopeful that her son would undergo a successful surgery.

Although there is no definitive medical explanation for cleft lip and palate, doctors attribute the deformity to a genetic disorder.

“It has been noticed that some patients have a genetic background of the condition. For instance we have here a mother and child who also has a cleft lip. We also have another mother who has bilateral cleft lip and the child, also the same,” explained Dr. Col. James Kiyengo.

There are currently no available statistics on the number of people suffering from cleft lip and palate in Somalia.

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An AMISOM paramedic checks a baby before his surgery in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 31, 2016. Children born with a cleft lip have a  congenital defect that prevents them talking, eating and breathing properly. Medical teams from AMISOM, and partners from the international cleft lip charity Smile Train and Bancroft Global Development, conducted the cleft lip and cleft palate surgery. AMISOM Photo / Omar Abdisalan
An AMISOM paramedic checks a baby before his surgery in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 31, 2016. Children born with a cleft lip have a congenital defect that prevents them talking, eating and breathing properly. Medical teams from AMISOM, and partners from the international cleft lip charity Smile Train and Bancroft Global Development, conducted the cleft lip and cleft palate surgery. AMISOM Photo / Omar Abdisalan