Cleft lip and palate is a complex developmental problem in babies where the upper lip or palate (roof of the mouth) is not correctly joined, leading to a gap in either the palate or lip or both. A cleft lip creates a opening in the upper lip between the mouth and nose, and looks like there is a split in the lip. A cleft palate creates an opening in the palate - the roof of your mouth.
One child in every 600 is born with a cleft lip and/or palate. Babies can become severely malnourished as they are unable to suckle and may be prone to choking. Left untreated, a child with a cleft may not learn to speak properly and can suffer hearing problems.
Apart from the daily communication and physical difficulties, such children can confront great social stigma. Many individuals with a facial ‘difference’ are ostracised by their communities, and most of our young patients are denied their right to a school-place.
Babies who are born with a cleft condition in the UK are operated on soon after birth, but in most of Africa it is ignored. Although treatment is freely available in some hospitals, the communities we work with cannot access it. They are often unaware of the treatment. The cost for a young patient to travel to hospital in the capital can be equivalent to a coffee farmer’s entire annual household income.
Our dedicated outreach team travel across eastern Ethiopia, an area half the size of France, working with local health workers to contact potential patients and raise awareness of the treatment available. We arrange free transport to the hospital, accommodation for a parent, and follow-up care. Ethiopian surgeons perform the procedures, building skills and capacity in the local health system, while they give children born with clefts a new chance in life.
It costs just £250 to reach a rural child with a cleft condition and organise the surgery and follow-up care he or she will need to speak, eat and smile like everyone else. If you can help, please click here.