For ten years a group of volunteer surgeons known as ‘Operation of Hope’ have been restoring the smiles of children born with a cleft lip and cleft palate for free.
Most of the operations have been performed in Harare and Bulawayo, but patients come from all over the country to receive the surgery. One of the volunteers, Alexa Fleming told Harare News that this year, over 100 children were brought for screening in Harare alone and 64 were selected for the operations which were done last month over five days.
“The screening process entails each child being measured and weighed to determine whether the child is the right age and if the child has grown enough for them to undergo a surgery that will benefit them at this time,” said Fleming.
She further explained that when a child does not qualify for the operation in that year, surgeons then advise on whether he or she should be brought back in the following year or further in the future.
Cleft lip or cleft palate are defects known as orafacial clefts which happen when a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy. A cleft palate is formed when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth has failed to join together completely during pregnancy. Some are born with both the front and the back of the palate open but for some, only one part is open. A cleft lip on the other hand forms when tissue that forms the lip does not join completely causing either a small slit or a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose. Some babies are born with both a cleft lip and a cleft palate and these conditions present feeding and hearing difficulties for babies.
Diana Mubayi who had the procedure done on her two daughters Tendai (6) and Tariraishe (3), could not contain her joy. Her children had failed to make it past the screening stage over the last three years but this time they were eligible.
“I am relieved that my children can now start eating well after the operation because from birth, I could not breastfeed them and some of the food I would feed them would come out through the nose”, shared Mubayi.
At only a year and three months, Junior Nyoni was also lucky to have made it on to this year’s list. His mother Elizabeth Makwanya travelled all the way from Zvishavane to get the procedure done and is overjoyed.
“I am very grateful to the team that has helped my son who had a cleft lip. I had become a social outcast because my child had an opening on his mouth.”
To contact Operation of Hope, email Jennifer at [email protected].
Image: Diana Mubayi with two volunteers from the Operation of Hope Team and her two daughters Tendai and Tariraishe who received free cleft lip operations.
Image Credit: Daphne Jena