The New Times (Kigali)

7 December 2012

Rwanda: Hundreds Get Free Cleft Lip Surgery

Rwamagana — Hundreds of children and adults with cleft lip and palate have started undergoing free operations at Rwamagana Hospital.

The week-long surgeries by a team of highly specialised medics from 'Help a Child Face Tomorrow' Kenya, is led by Dr. Meshach Ong'uti.

According to Ong'uti, the CEO/Co- Founder of the charity organisation, free surgeries are mainly given to children with cleft lip and cleft palate who are at least three months old and in good health.

"We have so far operated on 56 patients, majority are children...the surgery is important to children with the impairment. We operate and train the local staff at the same time."

He explained that there are many local cases of cleft lips, but parents do not come forward and prefer to keep the children in isolation because of the stigma associated with it.

He however complained that the patients turnout was very low, adding it was up to local authorities to mobilise the population to come out in numbers to benefit from the free surgery.

"It is amazing to see that there are few patients here...we expected a very big number. This is a very high level expertise team we bring from a far; it thus beats my logic when the turnout is very low," he said.

Patients who benefitted from the surgery were all smiles when they talked to The New Times from their hospital beds.

Two sisters, Peripetuwa Nikwibigenye, 47, and Felista Nikwibishaka, 58, said that the surgery was a turning point in their lives.

"It was terrible, I couldn't get married because of cleft lip, and no man has touched me up to this age (58). My sister was also married to a man not of her status, because of the impairment.

"My mother was desperate, the names she gave us attest to this; Nikwibigenye and Nikwibishaka are Kinyarwanda names meaning that when it is God's case, we don't appeal," said one of the sisters.

Immaculate Uwizeyimana, a mother of three, whose child was also operated, said that she was relieved of social related problems.

"I was full of shame, It was as if I was responsible for my child's deformity...I even shied away from going to church. I never wanted people to see my deformed child, but now I am extremely happy," she said.

Local leaders have intensified efforts to mobilise people with cleft Lip and palate to go for the surgery.

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