By Nicholas Osei-Wusu.
The Ghana Cleft Foundation, Journalists and the Smile Train, a US-Based Humanitarian Organisation are to step up awareness, for the public to accept Cleft as a deformity rather than a spiritual punishment for an offence committed by parents of children with the condition.
A training has been organised for selected Journalists to better appreciate Cleft, its associated socio-cultural-economic challenges and the availability of free treatment in Ghana. The training has become necessary following under reporting of the health condition due to stigmatization and rejection by families and society of such persons.
Cleft is a deformity of the mouth that could be a split of either the lip, palate or both parts of the body of an individual, from birth. Currently, there is no medical known cause of the condition as researchers are working to unravel the underlying causes. It is estimated that about 32 thousand children are born with Cleft in Africa annually, but in Ghana, there is no official national data or registry of the condition.
There is also public belief that cleft is spiritual and it is a punishment for some parents. This has prompted the national media training jointly organized by the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital and SmileTrain, a US-based humanitarian organization in the Ashanti Region. A 42-year-old trader, Madam Kubira Zakari and Madam Alimatu Sadia Jibril, 25, cited stigmatization, family rejection of their babies and divorce as some of the problems they went through since their husbands accused them of infidelity and gave birth to cleft babies.
A 25-year old Level 300 Law and Sociology Student of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ernestina Tabi, said she still suffers stigmatization and ridicule by her course mates and some lecturers for her speech impairment due to her cleft condition. She said however that she will not be demoralized by the situation on campus.
A former Vice President of the West African College of Surgeons, Professor Peter Donkor, who is also an Honorary Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, said despite the actual causes of cleft being a medical mystery, factors such as genetic disposition, infections, improper nutrition and inadequate folic acid during pregnancy have been identified as some of the possible causes.
Vice President and Africa Director of Smile Train, Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi, said the organization seeks to increase funding to expand the free support and surgery for persons with the condition in Ghana.