BY PAtIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, Abuja
Orofacial cleft is an opening that a child is born with. The opening occur mainly on the upper lip (cleft lip) and the roof of the mouth (palate).
This opening result from distortion in the development of the baby in the first three Months.
According to World Bank data, over 6,000 (six thousand) children are born every year with cleft lip and palate in Nigeria.
Sadly, many of these children grow up with this defect due to the myths about it, as some communities link cleft to witchcraft and childhood sickness.
Cleft lip and palate are among the most common birth defects and they mostly occur as isolated birth defects.
According to experts, a baby born with cleft can be corrected. In most babies, a series of surgeries can restore normal function and achieve a more normal appearance with minimal scarring
A consultant mouth orofacial surgeon, Dr Seidu Bello, told LEADERSHIP that medical abnormally usually occur within the first three months of pregnancy, adding that the major cause of Orofacial cleft is unknown but that however, there are predisposing factors which are either genetic or environmental.
The environmental factor, according to him, cannot be said to be the real cause but they are related to X-ray, saying that generally, “If pregnant women will have do X-ray, they will have to be protected because X-radiation have been known to cause distortion during development of the fetus.
“It is not just cleft that X-ray can cause, it can also cause defect in any part of the body including the limp, the heart and any part of the body. So generally, X-radiation is an environmental factor we will want to guide against.
“Also few things like drugs, mothers that are epileptic and are taking anticonvulsant drugs have been known to also be a possible cause of cleft.”
However, Bello, who is also the executive director, Cleft and Facial Deformity Foundation Abuja, said “Most of the cases we have seen actually are what can be described as isolated. For instance, you don’t see mother drinking alcohol, no exposure to radiation and still they have cleft children. As a matter of fact, in a paper that was published last year by my organisation, in which we reviewed 683 cases of cleft, we found out that 6.5 per cent have some degree of family relation which means it has some genetic possibilities whereas the rest which is 93 per cent are just isolated. you don’t have any specific cause that you can relate to them.
On prevention, he said how do you prevent what you don’t know, saying since the cause is not known, it is difficult to talk about specific prevention, except for pregnant women to be protected during X-ray.
The consultant advised against use of drugs during pregnancy while also urging pregnant women to go for antenatal during pregnancy so that they can be advised on what drugs to take.
On treatment, Bello said the defect is an opening, so the major treatment is surgery. However, he said there is comprehensive care which is the idea way of managing a cleft patient.
According to him, “Orofacial cleft is just a birth defect like every other defects like hole in the heart. We have adequate care and it is done well in Nigeria and that cause of this is just .
Bello worried that in so many communities there are so many myths around cleft while urging parents to take their cleft children for treatment.
“Pleas lets bring these children out for treatment and let’s stop ascribing witchcraft and others to it. Prayer houses or use of local herbs is not the solution,” he cautioned.
Also, speaking recently during the end of a two-day training for journalists, with the theme: “The Role of the Media as a Tool for Reporting Cleft” in Nassarawa State, the programme director, Smile Train, Mrs Nkeiruka Obi, noted that the organisation is presently in 70 countries including Nigeria, to provide free cleft lip and palate surgery.
She said Smile Train is a model of true sustainability providing training, funding and resources to empower local medical professionals in 70 countries to provide 100 per cent free cleft surgeries and other forms of essential cleft care in their own communities.
She noted that the organisation has 54 surgical partners across the country who provide free comprehensive cleft care and surgery in their own communities while advising Nigerians to take advantage of the free medical surgery.