KARACHI: Aga Khan University Hospital in collaboration with a local NGO “Smile Train” has embarked upon a scheme to provide free-of-cost cleft lip and palate corrective surgeries to patients belonging to Balochistan.
Dr Fazulr Rehman, consultant plastic surgeon at AKUH sharing details of the initiative here Wednesday said “one hour of surgery can change the life of a cleft patient as it restores the function of the mouth and appearance, allowing a child to enjoy a normal, healthy future”.
In reply to a question, he said ideal time for surgery is 3 months for cleft lips and 6 months for cleft palates.
Mentioning that lives of 16 individuals have been turn around, the senior surgeon said cleft lips and palates are common birth defects in the country with an estimated incidence of one in every 523birth.
They have profound physical and psychological effects as drinking and feeding is difficult and ear and throat infections are common.
“Left untreated, a child with a cleft may have speech and language problems, poor growth due to poor nutrition, often be ignored and lack confidence, said Dr. Fazulr Rehman.
On basis of his professional experience, he said many of these children grow up without any corrective surgery as their family is unaware that the malformation can be repaired or, if they do know, they cannot find a suitable facility or are deterred by the cost of surgery.
Smile Train representative in Pakistan, Mahmood Tahir said the NGO has been in Pakistan for 10 years, however, the organization is very selective when it chooses its partners.
We have chosen to enter into a partnership with AKU because it has two highly competent surgeons, excellent facilities and a paediatric intensive care unit, he said in reply to a question.
Smile Train representative also referred to the fact that most cleft palate and lip abnormalities are associated with other medical conditions including heart defects and as per agreement between his NGO and AKU, a patient will also receive free workup prior to surgery.
Dr Babar Hasan, head of pediatric cardiology at AKUH said clefts patients can suffer from simple defects like a hole in heart to more complex heart lesions requiring cardiac interventions.
Mahmood Tahir of Smile Train said individuals with lip and cleft palate face a lot of discrimination in the society and our utmost priority is the impact it can have on improving the lives of our patients, and the quality and safety of the procedures performed.
To another query, he said he himself and the NGO are not interested in numbers.
Majority of the 16 children, provided with the essential treatment during past nine months, belong to Balochistan whereas per folklore has it that a baby born during a lunar eclipse would have the half-bitten face of the moon.
When Shamsa in Turbat was born with a deep cleft on her face, her family would often hear this myth repeated by visitors. Her father Shahjahan although did not know that a cleft is caused by a blend of genetic and environmental factors but was determined to get help.
“The government-run Civil Hospital in Turbat does not offer corrective surgery facilities, Shahjahan recalled.
“What could I do? I drive a tractor and could not afford the cost of private surgery. But I knew of another child in Turbat who had come to Aga Khan University Hospital and been treated,” he said.
His one-year-old daughter was provided free surgery by AKUH under its agreement with Smile Train, an international organisation that since 1999 has been liaising with local plastic surgeons in more than 85 countries to offer corrective surgeries.
I am happy with my decision to bring her here. She can now smile and eat with no trouble, said a relieved Shahjahan.
Zoha, who also hails from Balochistan’s Panjgur area, was treated under the AKUH-Smile Train partnership too.
Her father Parvaiz was equally relieved, happy and satisfied with the treatment she received.
Under the agreement, a multidisciplinary team involving a pediatric cardiologist, anesthetist and plastic surgeon provides care to the children as well as youth seeking assistance.
For cleft lip surgeries, Smile Train and AKUH’s patient welfare department provide financial assistance whereas for cleft palate treatments, the NGO Ulphat provides additional support.