About 220 patients, children and adults, with cleft lips and cleft palates will undergo free surgery by a team of medical volunteers from Operation Smile South Africa (OSSA).
Operation Smile is a nonprofit international organization that provides free cleft lip and cleft palate surgery to children around the world. Since its inception in 1982, Operation Smile runs missions in more than 60 countries around the world and has provided 200 000 free surgeries to children and adults.
On September 18th 2009, Operation Smile signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government and Ministry of Health of Republic of Rwanda, and has since then performed two medical missions providing 510 free surgeries to Rwandese children and adults.
In addition Operation Smile conducted three American Heart Association Basic Life Support Programmes, and trained free of charge 201 in-country health care providers.
They are on the final phase of their 3rd mission to Rwanda that started on March 15th and will end on March 25th 2012 in Kigali at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Kigali (CHUK). They have been able to create 150 new smiles to Rwandan children and adults.
According to Dr. Aime Lokulutu, the Regional Director Central Africa ( DRC and Rwanda) the smile of a child is a right and the OSSA volunteers and surgeons have given all they can to provide free surgery to children and adults born with cleft lips and cleft palates in Rwanda.
This year’s surgeries were carried out by a team of medical and non-medical volunteers from Operation Smile South Africa (OSSA), and other countries including Kenya, Egypt, DRC, Sweden, and USA
At a news conference Dr. Lokulutu said anyone with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate could go to CHUK for a free examination in order to possibly receive free surgery.
“If patients need assistance with transportation to CHUK, they should make their way to their local district hospital where free transport will be provided on the same day at 6 a.m. Buses will be provided from Ruhengeri, Byumba, Kabgayi, Gisenyi, Kibuye, Nyagatare, Kirehe and Rwinkwavu hospitals,” he explained.
For this, MTN Rwanda has committed a substantial fund of 30.000US dollars (est.18million Rwanda francs) just to have at least 300 children in Rwanda be able to smile and make their parents back, in 2012.
John Bosco Sendahangarwa, MTN Rwanda’s Corporate Communication Manager
said that the sponsorship is part of the company’s corporate social responsibility to allow free operations to those affected.
MTN Rwanda has partnered with OSSA in this for three years. Last year MTN donated over $10,000 towards this initiative Sendahangarwa confirmed.
Sponsors of this initiative are categorized as Diamond: MTN , Gold Sponsors: World Vision, STIPP HOTELS, and BANQUE POPULAIRE DU RWANDA, Bronze Sponsor : ENGEN. Other donors include: JHPIEGO, Rotary Club Gasabo , Rotary Club Kigali, Bralirwa, Nakumatt, Bakery La Galette, Akagera Business Group, SulfoRwanda, DHL, Mironko Plastic and KiPharma
Key institutional partners are: Ministry of Health and High Commission of South Africa Erin Kennedy, OSSA Manager for Africa, explained that a cleft is an opening or a gap caused by non-fusion of the body’s natural structures that form before birth. She said that a cleft lip or palate can be successfully treated with surgery, especially if conducted soon after birth or in early childhood.
With the contribution of corporate sponsors and with the support of Operation Smile, according Dr. Bonaventure Nzeyimana, official from the Health Ministry there is now a commitment to eliminate all cases of cleft lips or cleft palates in Rwanda.
The ministry also announced a nationwide campaign to change the mindset in communities about victims of cleft lips and cleft palates.
“It is very costly to have such operations in Rwanda but the support of Operation Smile, and contribution of corporate sponsors has enabled us to succeed in having these patients manage to smile again”
“Most of the patients have issues of trauma and the community considers them to be bewitched, however it is now evident that miracles can happen and such cases can be treated” Mr. Nzeyimana said in an interview with Hope Magazine.
Just like Operation Smile, each of the corporate sponsors had a profound motivation—to save lives of Rwandan children, to make a difference in the community.
Stipp Hotels is another sponsor who made significant contribution to the initiative. The Stipp Hotel manager, Aston Ashubwe, says that initially the hotel used to host the volunteers for accommodation and it was all about business, however this has changed over the years.
“This was a bigger cause and we had to convince our bosses that instead of charging a standard rate for the team, we would subsidize and make it part of our corporate social responsibility as a Hotel” Ashubwe confessed to Hope Magazine.
For World Vision Rwanda, their involvement in Operation Smile programmes is an additional effort to their already existing strategies of reaching out the community in various aspects including health of children and adults.
“We are proud to be affiliated to this noble cause, of which we believe in and would do anything to see the lives of people change” said George Gitau, the Country Director of World Vision Rwanda.
For the South African, 1st Secretary Political & Economic, VireshVallabhbhai, who was in South Africa when the Operation Smile project started, the dream has grown beyond what the expectations of everyone at that time.
“None of us knew that Operation Smile would go beyond South Africa. I believe that this dream has grown and expanded to more countries because of the commitment of the volunteers in the program. This is a great value that we should uphold so as to reach out more people in the world” Vallabhbhai said.
Approximately 1 in 700 children in the world are born with a cleft lip or a cleft palate. Clefts can also affect other parts of the face. Such as: the eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, and forehead.
More than 200.000 children are born each year with facial deformities. In Rwanda, these cases have not been fully identified or even registered but the ministry of health has plans to do a major research on the problem.
More than 5 000 medical professionals from 80 countries around the world volunteer with Operation Smile. Operation Smile operates 13 Comprehensive Care Centers worldwide, with medical facilities offering year-round patient care beyond surgery. One in 10 children born with a cleft will die before their first birthday, according to research