Story by Abigirl Tembo, Health Editor
The Ministry of Health and Child Care in conjunction with its partners will be conducting free cleft lip and palate surgeries from the 23rd to the 27th of January.
Having a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate is traumatic for many parents, but for the Mangwiro family, it’s even worse as every generation has a child with a cleft palate, all of them untreated.
At 51 years, Tobias Mangwiro still struggles with his cleft palate condition but wants the best for his three-year-old son Tawanda who is suffering from the same condition, hence he has registered him for free cleft lip and cleft surgeries which will be taking place at Sally Mugabe central hospital from the 23rd to the 27th of this month.
“We have the same condition with my son. My mother wanted to take me for an operation, but my grandmother advised her otherwise, so I never got any medical attention. Growing up, I faced a lot of stigma, as my peers would laugh at me because they didn’t understand me hence I became a violent person. I can see my son also has the same temper. So, when my son was born with the same problem it broke my heart. When eating I have to eat at an angle so that the food doesn’t come out through the nose,” explains Mr Mangwiro.
With an aunt, a grandmother, a sister-in-law and a husband with a cleft palate, the mother Patience Chadzimura although aware of her son’s condition and the challenges he will face, has grown accustomed to the condition and is a bit wary of the upcoming operation.
“I gave birth to him at Domboramwari Clinic. He wasn’t breathing properly and was put on oxygen, but he wasn’t sucking the breast properly. So, from there I started bottle feeding him, but he would vomit the milk through his nose. That’s when we started feeding him formula, all our money was spent on his milk my mother-in-law was selling beer so that we would buy milk. It took him a long time for him to be able to talk. About the operation, I am a bit nervous and am not sure of the outcome.”
According to Smile Train Southern Africa Director, Ms Sibusisiwe Yona, one of the organisations partnering government for the surgeries, Tawanda’s condition can be corrected through surgery.
“A cleft palate is fixable, so normally we fix a cleft palate from around 9 months. It is encouraged that we fix the cleft palate before the child turns 8 years so that we can also try to manage the speech side of things so normally if you don’t fix it early enough it might actually cause permanent speech problems, permanent communication problems and these children have difficulties going to school. Some of them are not confident in school and they end up dropping out, but we can fix it.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the global burden of children born with cleft lips and cleft palates stands at one in every 3 000 live births.