The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: More Medics to Be Trained in Cleft Lip, Palate Surgery

Operation Smile, a non-profit volunteer medical organisation providing free reconstructive surgery, has announced plans to train more Rwandan medics to handle treatment and surgery for the deformity.

Kia Guarino, the Operation Smile programme manager for Africa, announced the plan at the launch of free cleft lip surgery at University Central Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), yesterday.

More than 130 people have registered for the surgery that will run until Friday.

So far, 256 local medical professionals have been trained, including 10 as trainers and others as aesthesia [mental responsiveness and awareness] technicians.

MTN Rwanda committed $10,000 (Rwf63m) towards the free cleft lip operations, Khaled Mikkawi, MTN-Rwanda CEO, said.

"We are committed to touching the lives of Rwandans in a more positive manner. We have partnered with Operation Smile for the last four years to ensure these rare operations intended to enable Rwandans with cleft lips smile again," Mikkawi said.

The team, Guarino said, will no longer be doing surgery alone, but also training medics so that by 2016, Rwandan medics are in position to handle treatment and surgery.

Operation Smile has been sending teams to the country annually for the last two years to operate on people with cleft lips and palates.

The deformity

A cleft lip is a malformation where the lip has not fused together and fully formed and looks like a gap in the upper lip, while a cleft palate is a hole in the roof of the mouth.

Guarino said they are working towards engaging more local doctors to volunteer in the treatment of cleft lips and palates.

Russell Papineau, the Operation Smile programmes officer for Rwanda, said there are 40 volunteers from outside the country.

"We hope that in the next operations, there will be more Rwandan medics taking part as volunteers. We have established an office so we can work with different hospitals and help in building capacity for Rwandan medics in handling cleft lips surgery," he said.

Diane Umurerwa, 17, one of the beneficiaries of the surgery, said she had for long lived with stigma as students and other people in the community keep laughing at her.

The Senior Two student from Kigeme refugee camp, said, "People used to laugh at me but after this operation, I will be happier and beautiful like any other girl. I will be more confident," she said.

Dr Martin Nyundo, a General Surgeon at CHUK, said it is a big opportunity for Rwandans to gain skills and be able to handle such cases without necessarily waiting for volunteers from other countries.

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