Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

19 February 2013

Rwanda: Operation Smile Gears Up for Free Cleft Surgery Next Week

Between 150 and 200 patients suffering from cleft lips and palates are set to get a free surgery at the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) during annual week-long free cleft surgery for the fourth time.

The action is the result of a partnership between the ministry of health and Operation Smile, a non-profit medical group that provides free reconstructive surgery to children and adults with cleft lips or palates around the world. According to KiaGuarino, the organization's programs manager for Africa, patients from every corner of the country will from Friday be ready at the hospital for medical evaluations.

"The reality is that there is a lot of isolation, stigma, and huge social problems," Guarino described the reason of their engagement.

The initiative conducted recently pre-screening sessions countrywide.

Immaculée Kamanzi, the head of Stomatology at CHUK, explained that the deformation can be caused by malnutrition in pregnant women, environment pollution and heredity factors, among others.

"It's very difficult to prevent, but the government has established a nutrition program for everyone because even people who have the means might not know how to prepare a complete meal," Kamanzi said.

Operation Smile is also helping medical professionals with capacity building programs. "We are working with the ministry of health on a four-year project that is aimed at training a number of volunteers in cleft surgery," said Guarino, adding that six medical professionals are coming from Ruhengeri to this program.

In this move, there is a surgical skills development program in Butare hospital to conduct three hands-on training sessions per year. While the emphasis will be on the transfer of skills in surgery, anesthesia, and nursing, the team will also provide 50-60 free surgeries per rotation.

According to the ministry's commitment, the target is to have treated all existing cases in five years.

The ministry of health and Operation Smile signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in September 2009, and the first series of operations took place in 2010. The organization's volunteers have so far provided free evaluations to 1316 Rwandans and surgery to 742.

The program is sponsored by organizations such World Vision, BPR, Unicef and MTN Rwanda, the main sponsor. Yvonne Mubiligi, the head of the MTN Foundation, said that the telecom company donated US$ 10,000 to support the program this year. Apart from the donation, she mentioned that they also did advocacy so that other companies embrace the humanitarian initiative.

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