Creating a dedicated Cleft Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Approximately 5,000 babies with cleft lip and palate are born every year in Bangladesh. A very large number of these babies never have surgery and many are poorly treated by inexperienced surgeons. Even for those infants fortunate enough to receive an operation, there is virtually no long-term care to ensure that their speech is satisfactory, their teeth grow normally or that their hearing is normal .
Very few clefts are repaired in government hospitals. The majority are treated in private hospitals and through NGOs. Some are operated on by large and expensive overseas teams who fly in, operate and fly out – leaving nothing behind in terms of training or follow-up and, sometimes, very unsatisfactory outcomes. Brian Sommerlad has been going to Bangladesh annually for 16 years and has seen many of these problems.
CLEFT is working with surgeons at the National Institute of Burns and Plastic Surgery (associated with Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Dhaka, Bangladesh) to establish a multidisciplinary, comprehensive cleft and craniofacial centre. This plan took a step forward in February 2015 when CLEFT trustees Brian Sommerlad, Richard Allan and Emily Shrimpton visited Bangladesh (see video).
In February 2016, this project took another big step forward when the basis of a cleft team was established, with the designation of three surgeons who will specialise in cleft lip and palate, a surgeon/coordinator, a specialist speech and language therapist (the first specialist cleft therapist in Bangladesh) and a specialist cleft anaesthetist. CLEFT will be paying the salaries of some of these team members for the next 2 years. You can meet some members of the cleft team and see two of the patients treated in February 2016, on the video below.
We have been greatly encouraged by the support offered by The Emirates Airlines Foundation, who have generously agreed to fund 10 return air fares over the next year – for current members of the Great Ormond Street/St Andrew’s cleft team to travel to Bangladesh to teach and to enable members of the team from Bangladesh (four surgeons, the speech and language therapists and an anaesthetist) to travel to the UK for short periods of further education at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. They have also expressed their willingness to renew this support in future years.
We believe that this centre can act as a model for a revolution in cleft care in Bangladesh. Truly comprehensive cleft care involves a great deal more than one or two operations in infancy. Patients in the UK are cared for by all the specialists in the cleft team, from birth to adulthood. We want to ensure that, in the future, babies born with a cleft in Bangladesh have the same opportunities as those in the UK.
The below video is a longer 12 minute version of the above video providing further information about this important project.