By Felix Matasva, Manicaland Correspondent
THE world’s largest cleft oriented organisation, Smile Train, in partnership with the health ministry, is set to provide free surgeries for Zimbabwean cleft patients at provincial hospitals around the country.
The non-profit organisation is currently offering free cleft care services only at Harare Hospital.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are deformities which can occur when certain body parts and structures fail to fuse together during pregnancy.
If children with clefts are left untreated, they can end in physical difficulties such as eating, breathing, hearing and speaking.
Since Zimbabweans heavily rely on out of pocket payments for high medical costs, most parents can not afford surgeries for their children, hence some often grow up with untreated clefts.
Smile Train programme director for Southern Africa, Sibusisiwe Yona, said plans are underway to decentralise free cleft care services from Harare to provincial hospitals with pediatric capacity.
“We are currently giving free care services in Harare, but we are trying to decentralise and move to other provinces. We want to bring the free services closer to the people,” Yona said.
She added, “We have not done this programme in Manicaland before because operations can only be done at hospitals with pediatric capacity.
“Very soon we will start to conduct free cleft operations at Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital, a major referral health institution in Manicaland .”
Yona noted that at least 75% of patients treated by Smile Train at Harare Hospital are referrals from Manicaland Province.
She urged communities to stop stigmatisation of persons with cleft deformities, as some parents will end up isolating their children at home in fear of discrimination.
“Clefts are not caused by witchcraft, the condition is also not a curse and it is a deformity that can be treated.”
A parent to a cleft palate surgery recipient, Mary Tambuka, encouraged other parents to take their children to hospital for treatment.
According to Smile Train’s statistics, at least 250 children in Zimbabwe are born with clefts every year and very few of them are treated.
A cleft surgery in the Southern African nation costs at least US$2000 or more at private hospitals.