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Special clinic celebrates record 7,000 cleft lip surgeries

 BelaRisu Foundation CEO Dr Martin Kamau, Senator Veronica Maina and Nairobi County Director Kepha Omanga during celebrations in Nairobi on October 27, 2023. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

A special clinic that operates and treats cleft lip and palate deformities free of charge has performed and treated 7,000 victims of the deformities in a record time of one year. This was revealed during celebrations held to mark the milestones accomplished. 

The BelaRisu Medical Center’s first-anniversary event was held at the Centre located on Park Road, Ngala, Nairobi County on Friday. The facility is a referral clinic that provides surgeries to children, young adults, and the aged. 

“The clinic has performed 7,000 surgeries related to cleft lip and palate since it was launched in September last year,” said Dr Martin Kamau, CEO of the BelaRisu Foundation, while addressing the Media, County, and National Government representatives, invited guests and beneficiaries of the surgeries. 

He said the Medical Centre was focused on providing free-changing, dignified, and hope-restoring surgeries to victims affected by craniofacial deformities since the foundation believes that every individual deserves to lead a life free from the limitations of craniofacial deformities,” said Dr Kamau. 

Guest of Honour Senator Ann Maina praised the noble approach of the BelaRisu Foundation in offering life-changing surgeries and treatment, especially for the children, who without the surgeries and treatment would have led a difficult undignified life. 

“Reading from the performance script and the fact that the clinic has done a record 7,000 surgeries and treatment from victims across the country, the indication is that it is possible to ensure that Kenyans born with craniofacial deformities, can now live a better life,” said the Senator. 

She said the Nairobi County and the Government would work closely with the Medical Centre to ensure that it got the necessary support to drive its humanity-focused agenda of making a difference in the lives of craniofacial deformities in children and adults. 

According to statistics from the KBS, cleft lip and palate affect one in 1,300 births, with six children being born with the deformity every day. 

Senator Maina noted that a cleft was not a disability, but if not corrected, it could affect a child in ways that meant they needed extra help, though most children with a cleft are not affected by any other condition and can do just as well at school as any other child. 

“The only way to save the child from stigma is to repair a cleft palate through surgery, whose goal is to close the opening in the roof of the child's mouth,” she said. 

During the event, guests were treated to a tour of the facility to get a glimpse of the day-to-day activities of the special medical facility, the only one of its kind in Africa South of the Sahara. 

“We offer realistic solutions that prioritise equitable, and accessible healthcare that is focused around delivering 1st world optimal care in a 3rd world setup through synergistic approach, enhancing the quality of care and bringing humanity to the forefront of healthcare,” said Dr Kamau as he explained some of the features at the facility. 

Among the invited guests were survivors who were happy to share their stories of their personal life-changing transformation, that of their “little angels” (the children), or their relatives and loved ones who cut across the age group. 

“When I brought baby Sabrina Bishar for surgery, I learnt that the name Bela Risu is a Latin word that means 'beautiful smile’, and I got excited at the prospect of my little girl wearing a beautiful smile and in less than a month, she was doing that,” said Halima Osman who was celebrating the remarkable gesture that transformed baby Bishar for life. 

She says she will forever be grateful to Dr Kamau (he performed the surgery) and the healthcare team at the Bela Risu Medical Center. She says the free surgery would have cost her Ksh250,000. According to oral and maxillofacial surgery is between 250,000 and Ksh450,000 depending on individual hospitals. 

While acknowledging the work done by Smile Train, a cleft lip lobby, that is also behind the success story of the BelaRisu launch, Nairobi County Director, Kepha Omanga, who represented Governor Johnson Sakaja at the event, called for more research to address the neglected surgical condition. 

“Governor Sakaja is aware of the work done by BelaRisu and has assured the founders of his personal support and that of the County Government and urges the healthcare team at the facility to tap into their vast experiences to create awareness so that the decision and policymakers can support the Clinic,” said Omanga. 

He said the office of the Governor supported healthcare staff such as surgeons, nutritionists, social workers, and anesthetists to continually do research to voice the needs of the patients, especially those with neglected surgical conditions such as those suffering from craniofacial deformities. 

According to Dr Kamau who is an oral and maxillofacial surgeoncleft lip and palate is the most common birth defect in Kenya that threatens to confine children to a life without opportunities, yet it can be treated. Some people, he said, hide such children, whose future depends on early, corrective surgery.

He lamented that there are no clear medical practitioners who called on governments to create policies addressing cleft lip and palate cases in their countries and entrench them in their healthcare systems to cater to those affected by the condition. She called on the government to create policies that address cleft lip and palate cases in the 47 counties and entrench them in the mainstream healthcare systems to cater to those affected by the condition.

Dr Kamau says the government should facilitate the surgeries because they are too expensive for most families to afford. "The government should make access to universal healthcare affordable to Kenyans, even those with low income," Dr Kamau said. 

A cleft lip is a gap or a tear in the upper lip, while a cleft palate is a gap in the roof of the mouth. It is treatable, especially when the child is under two years. Some developed countries have even worked on an unborn child with a cleft lip or palate.

Senator Maina noted that most patients with cleft lip and palate cannot afford surgery and treatment for the procedure due to lack of medical cover, a gap that BelaRisa is trying to bridge.

“Most insurance companies, including our National Hospital Insurance Fund, do not cover cleft lip and palate deformities as they are considered congenital, yet the surgery and treatment are not affordable to many. African governments must address this policy gap to support those affected,” she said.

BelaRisu Medical Centre was opened in September, in partnership with Smile Train. It is the first standalone comprehensive cleft care centre in East and Central Africa that is dedicated to the provision of free cleft services to the less privileged and in most need across the Country and Africa.

“For the past year, BelaRisu Medical Centre, has provided surgeries to both children and adults, nutritional support, orthodontics, and speech therapy, alongside training health professionals from other facilities on cleft management, and we hope to do more moving forward,” said the CEO.

He said some of the surgeries carried out by the Centre include cleft lip and palate, rhinoplasties, alveolar bone grafting, and orthognathic in addition to providing nutritional support, orthodontics, and speech therapy.


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