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International NGO Trains Nigerian Journalists On Cleft Lip and Palate Reporting, Calls For More Awareness

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By Sunday Elom

Smile Train, an international and world’s largest cleft organization has called for extensive creation of awareness about cleft lip and palate in Nigeria.

The organisation made the call on Thursday in Enugu, Enugu State capital during its two-day National Media Training Workshop organized for journalists across the Southeast region of Nigeria.

Cleft lip and palate is a birth difference in which the patient experiences difficulties in breathing, eating and speaking due to opening in either the lip, palate or both.

Addressing the participants at the workshop on Thursday, Smile Train’s Public Relations and Communications Manager for Africa, Emily Manjeru said that though there is no spiritual connection with cleft, it has been observed that children born with cleft are mostly stigmatized due to myths and misinformation surrounding it.

Manjeru explained that the exact cause of cleft is still not known but it is associated with environmental factors including genetics, alcohol and drug abuse, adding that Smile Train strives to dispel misconceptions and misinformation surrounding cleft.

She decried the fact that across the world, most children who grow up with untreated cleft are stigmatized and bullied and unable to thrive.

Explaining that Smile Train offers comprehensive support, including fully paid surgical expenses for people with cleft – children and adults, Manjeru also said that the media workshop is to increase the knowledge of cleft among the media which will in turn enlighten Nigerians about cleft.

“This being the second year we are carrying out the media workshops, we recognize the significance of sharing accurate information with the media to enhance behavior change in the community.

“We need to continuously sensitize communities that cleft is not a curse and courtesy of Smile Train, treatment is free across Nigeria through our network of 45 partner hospitals. The media are a key stakeholder in creating this awareness,” Manjeru said.

She further noted that the workshop would bring to the fore pertinent issues affecting safe, timely and quality surgical care among vulnerable groups, the need for more collaboration between medical partners, institutions and government that prioritize patients with cleft.

According to Manjeru, key among the issues to be covered during the two-day workshop include the implementation of the National Surgical Obstetrics Anaesthesia and Nursing Plan (NSOANP), in which Smile Train is collaborating with the Ministry of Health to identify the surgical needs.

She said that NSOANP has recently proposed the introduction of free surgical emergency care into the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA).

During a visit to the surgical laboratory and recovery ward equipped with modern equipment at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu, which is one of the organisation’s partnering institutions in Nigeria, a frontline officer of Smile Train, Paul Lobi explained that the organisation’s program started in Nigeria in 2007 and has supported full treatment and recovery of over 30,000 beneficiaries.

Lobi said that through strategic partnerships at the local and international level, Smile Train dedicates itself towards providing funding towards quality healthcare capacity building and advocacy to increase access to safer surgeries and cleft care in low- and middle-income countries.

Addressing the journalist, the Head of Plastic Surgery Department of Coordinator of Comprehensive Cleft Care at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Onah, extolled Smile Train for the provision of the modern equipment for clefts surgery and treatment in the hospital.

Dr. Onah who said that their work has been made much easier and safer by the equipment said that they performed about nine successful clefts surgery in July.

He however noted the need for more awareness as many Nigerians living with clefts do not know about Smile Train free treatment.

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