38 get free cleft defect surgery in Meru

Hospital says project will continue at the end of every month

In Summary

• Surgeon says there are more than 7,000 Kenyans with cleft lip and palate who are ashamed, isolated and stigmatised. 

• Firm develops mobile app and trains community health volunteers to trace neglected surgical diseases.

Meru Level 5 Hospital last week offered free surgery to 38 cleft lip and palate patients.  

Hospital CEO James Kirimi said the project will continue at the end of every month. He urged more residents to register. 

Kirimi, a maxillofacial surgeon, said there are more than 7,000 Kenyans with cleft lip and palate who are either ashamed, isolated or stigmatised. 


“We initiated the surgery offer since February last year and mobilised community health volunteers to go to interior villages, door to door, identifying patients with the deformity. We have registered 42 adults and children. Many are kept at home while some face stigma from mates and society. No child should suffer.  The deformity may be due to some congenital problems and not the myth that one is bewitched,” Kirimi said.

Cleft lip and palate is a common facial birth defect that affects one in 700 people globally. Its cause remains unknown but it is associated with genetics, nutritional deficiency (inadequate folic acid), smoking and drinking and self-prescribing during pregnancy. 

Every year, 17 million people die of preventable deaths due to neglected surgical diseases. 

Smile Train regional director for Africa Dr Esther Njoroge said myths and misconceptions surrounding cleft hinder access to free surgery. 

“The deformity is linked to lack of folic acid in the body, some to smoking mothers, toxins from environment and inheritance. Mothers should go for anti-natal clinics," Njoroge said.

" Cleft is 100 per cent treatable and takes less than an hour. We are committed to train surgeons and provide necessary equipment for surgery to proceed after the camp."

International Collaboration for Essential Surgery director Patrick Mwai said they have developed a mobile app and trained community health volunteers to trace neglected surgical diseases. 


“The app is being used for the first time in Meru. One takes a photo of the patient’s condition and relays the information on the location, physical address and contacts of the patient. We encourage partnership with other counties,” Mwai said.

The Global Alliance for Surgical, Obstetric, Trauma and Anesthesia Care (G4 Alliance) estimates that five billion people live without access to safe and affordable surgical and anaesthesia care. 

Smile Train’s local medical partners have provided more than 113,000 cleft surgeries across Africa.

It has reached 245 partner hospitals and 255 medical partners’ facilities in 38 countries across Africa to provide free cleft treatment.

Edited by R.Wamochie