From Gyang Bere, Jos
Hell was let loose on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, at Kubwa General Hospital, Abuja, where a 34-year-old mother of one, Blessing Emmanuel, gave birth to a baby with cleft lip and palate, a health condition that creates an opening or split in the roof of the mouth of the baby.
Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy, contrary to norms and beliefs of some communities who view it as a punishment from God or an act of witchcraft.
Blessing, who was rushed to the hospital in intense labour pains that fateful day, was praying for safe delivery without envisaging any deformity of the baby. After hours of labour, she eventually gave birth safely but it was a baby with cleft lip, a condition that was frightening and terrifying.
Most of the nurses on duty fled the labour room immediately the baby was received, while those who were courageous enough stayed back but kept crying over the condition. The situation created a scene in the hospital, where some medical attendants and patients who had never experienced the condition were left in utter dismay, wondering what could have happened to the baby. People from the neighborhood came in droves to catch a glimpse of the baby with some describing her with all manner of adjectives.
Hurriedly, the medical personnel drew the attention of the husband, Emmanuel Josiah, to the baby’s condition and they were referred to the National Hospital, Abuja, amid confusion and fear. He quickly named her Purity Emmanuel to demystify the condition.
From then, the joy of the mother was truncated as she remained bitter over the baby’s condition, with several thoughts running through her mind. Several diagnosis were carried out at the National Hospital with a view to unravel the cause of the condition but without success.
The family became isolated in the hospital as other patients were not willing to identify with her while the condition was milking them of their resources without hope that the baby would get better.
Blessing, who narrated her traumatic experience, revealed that she was traumatised, dejected, despondent and ready to die. Her relations could not approach the baby as she was not willing to allow anybody to come close to her.
She said: “When I saw my baby after delivery, I started crying because I have not seen any baby in such condition before but nurses told me that some children are born with cleft lip and palate and later referred us to National Hospital.”
The mother who was deeply pained and crying one fateful afternoon, heard some individuals who came for a visit in the hospital discussing the condition of her baby and mentioning Smile Train. She quickly informed her husband to make enquiries about the activities of Smile Train, after which he established contact with them.
“We were at the hospital for two weeks without any result but, one day, I heard people discussing about Smile Train, a non-governmental organisation that specialised in training medical personnel for surgical operation on cleft.
“My husband googled and located the website where he established contact with the organization and we started talking with them. I was relieved when they said they coould correct it through surgery.
“Before then, I refused to bring the baby out for anybody to see because people would start saying all manner of things and more so the mouth of the baby was open, I didn’t want anybody to complicate the situation because I was also running away from infection,” she said.
Emmanuel Josiah, her husband, who hails from Edo State but grew up in Kaduna State, said the condition brought shock and trauma to the family.
He said: “When I took my wife to the hospital for delivery, that was not my expectation. I saw my wife crying from the labour room; I couldn’t imagine what was happening.
“I was scared and I asked her what was happening. She said I should go and see my baby. The nurse came out with the baby and when I sighted her, I took some steps backward and summoned courage to bring my wife back to her feet.
“I encourage her to be strong but she kept crying and when the doctor came, I told him that in my 42 years of existence, I have never seen this situation either by chance.”
Emmanuel who was short of words explained that the baby was delivered at about 4pm that fateful day, waited until 7pm before they were referred to the National Hospital where they stayed on admission for two weeks without headway.
“We were in the hospital, paying bills while the baby was on oxygen and we were getting overwhelmed by the situation. One day my wife told me that she heard some people talking about Smile Train, that they can handle the situation.
“I got home that day and searched for the organisation through the internet and luckily, I found the website and I posted my request and to my surprise, somebody called me the following day and assured me that the person in charge was not in Nigeria but that I will receive another call.
“I was relieved but my worry was for how long will I wait for a call from the person in charge. Two hours later, another person called and referred me to a medical worker who sent a trained nurse to teach my wife how to feed the baby.
“Since I had access to Smile Train, that took a huge burden off my shoulder. We can now sleep because Smile Train has assured us that the condition can be treated and corrected free,” he stated.
Emmanuel said they are at home praying and waiting for Purity to be three months before a free corrective surgery would be carried out on her to correct the cleft, courtesy Smile Train.
Cleft lip and palate are the most commonly craniofacial birth impairment and one of the most common congenital impairments in humans. Anecdotal evidence suggests that stigmatization, discrimination and socio-cultural inequalities are common phenomenon experienced by families of such children in Nigeria.
It is believed that over 6,186 children are born with cleft lip and palate in Nigeria every year, which amount to 16 children born per day. There appears to be little attention beamed on the public health despite the fact that the condition is correctable through surgery.
There are communities that their culture forbid children born with cleft lip. Those children and their mothers are regarded as a curse and are treated like outcast by members of the community. Some regards the mothers as promiscuous, witch and a taboo to the community.
But in Vwang community of Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau, the story is different as child born with such conditions are embraced by members of the community as a gift from God. The paramount ruler, Gwom Rwey Vwang, Da. Gyang Gutt, said there are few children who had the experience in the community but it has been corrected through surgery.
He admonished members of the community whose children are born with such conditions to come out for free surgery. A sensitisation would be carried out in the community to identify children with the condition for proper surgery.
Public relations and communications manager, Smile Train, Emily Manjeru, said the organization has treated over 30,000 people with such conditions and encouraged various communities in Nigeria to bring out babies with cleft lip for surgery.
She assured that Smile Train will carry out surgery on Purity Emmanuel through its partners to correct the cleft lip and palate to enable her compete favourable with her counterparts across the world
A consultant plastic surgeon with 14 years experienced on cleft surgery, Dr. Amina Abubakar, said a child born with cleft lip and palate can be treated only when she becomes three months old.
She noted that cleft is a health condition that can be treated perfectly contrary to some people who believe that it is inflicted by witch craft or it is a punishment on the family.
Dr. Amina, who has performed 3,000 cleft surgeries sponsored by Smile Train, said the cause of the defect was yet to be unravel as research is still ongoing, and encouraged families and communities to bring out children born with cleft for free surgery.
She noted that there were prominent Nigerians in different fields of who were born with cleft lip and palate that are fulfilling their destiny after corrective surgery.