Mr Clement Ofosuhemeng, Patient Coordinator of Operation Smile Ghana has assured parents that it considers it as a duty and calling to restore smiles on the faces of babies with cleft lips and cleft palates.
He said the international non-governmental organization’s team from various disciplines including surgeons, paediatricians and nutritionist worked towards providing free reconstructive surgeries for babies with cleft lips and palates.
Addressing the media, he said the best time to start getting care for such babies was right from birth to ensure that the right way of feeding was done, while health officers also monitored their nutritional issues and other medical-related stuff to prepare them for the surgery.
Mr Ofosuhemeng said to ensure the babies got the needed nutrition, their team met their parents monthly at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and Tamale Teaching Hospital for those in the southern and northern areas respectively.
He said the team also conducts counselling sessions for parents and caregivers on how to handle babies with cleft and how to minimize the stigma associated with the defect.
He said due to stigma parents hid their babies and called on them to seek early care for their babies as early interventions was beneficial for the growth of their children.
Ms. Dede Kwadjo, Head of Nutrition for Operation Smile Ghana, on her part advised parents and caregivers of children with cleft lips and palates to prioritize the nutrition of their children as it was a major factor to be considered before conducting a corrective surgery.
Ms. Kwadjo, who is also a Principal Dietitian at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital said corresponding weight of a child must match the age as a sign of healthiness before being booked for surgery.
She disclosed that a child with a cleft lip must have a minimum weight of not less than six kilogrammes at six months to qualify for surgery, while those with cleft palates must not have a weight below 10 kilogrammes as their weight must correspond to their one-year age and above age that such surgery could be carried out.
She saidf due to the challenges associated with the cleft lip and palates, many of such children tend to have poor eating habits leading to weight related issues.
She said to help put the children in nutrition for surgery, the nutritional team identified the issues early and put in the right interventions to ensure that the surgery was carried out at the appropriate time to save the child from getting speech impairment.
She said sometimes the nutritious issues and malnutrition did not always emanate from lack of feeding, but sometimes, there was knowledge deficit from care givers as some of them lacked information on proper feeding.
Ms Kwadjo said some care givers tend to feed children three times a day just as they fed themselves, not having the knowledge that due to the small stomach size of babies, they needed to be fed frequently to ensure they received the required amount of nutrients for the day.
She said there were some parents who also fed the babies frequently but not with the right nutrients, stating for instance that some gave their babies porridge that had no fortification.
She said because each case might differ, nutritional assessment must be carried out on individual babies to inform the type of interventions to be given.
Ms Kwadjo reiterated the need for parents to seek early care for their babies with cleft lips and palates, explaining that even though the cleft lips did not necessarily affect feeding and speech, it could be corrected early by six months to avoid stigma and other related issues.
She said the cleft palates on the other hand, if not reconstructed early could affect the child’s speech.