Speech therapy unit attached to the Eastern Regional Hospital, Koforidua has been inaugurated.
The unit is to assist patients suffering from cleft lip and cleft palate, autism, cerebral palsy and down syndrome, which hamper speech, to have the condition corrected.
The centre, referred to as a Speech and Language Therapy Unit,is the first to be attached to a non-teaching hospital in Ghana.
A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO),Operation Smile, secured financial support from the Swedish Post Code Lottery Organisation to assist the hospital with the unit.
At a short ceremony to officially inaugurate the new facility last Wednesday at the hospital in Koforidua, the Country Manager of Operation Smile, Ellikem Nyavor, said his organisation was for the welfare of such unfortunate patients.
He indicated that last year, about 1,800 patients born with cleft lips or palates all across Ghana were treated through surgical operations and nutrition care.
He added that the NGO decided to invest in speech care and, therefore, selected the Eastern Regional Hospital for that purpose.
According to Mr Nyavor, the unit would not only cater for cleft patients but all others suffering from communication disabilities.
That, he said, would improve speech and language outcomes among children with such communication and swallowing problems in the region and the country as a whole.
He said research had shown that in Ghana, one in every 700 births were cleft patients.
He, therefore, called on all residents of Koforidua, as well as the entire region to take absolute advantage of the centre to seek treatment there.
The country manager emphasised that since majority of Ghanaians did not know much about cleft and its associated problems, his outfit was creating public awareness of such abnormality.
According to him, there was no definite cause for cleft, which might be attributed to risk factors such as mothers being exposed to concoctions and smoking during pregnancy.
Mr Nyavor said his organisation was ready to work hand in hand with the government through the Ministry of Health to ensure that healthcare delivery for patients with such deformities was available across the country.
He, however, said it was necessary for the government to include patients with cleft in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to enable such unfortunate patients to be able to pay their medical bills without any difficulties.
A study recently published in the World Journal of Surgery stated that at a cost of $250, a cleft repair operation could boost local economies around the world by as much as $50,000 per patient as that individual could go on to lead a full, productive life free of health complications and stigma.
More than 170,000 babies are born each year in developing countries with cleft lip and palate, according to data compiled by Smile Train, a non-profit organisation and charity providing corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates and headquartered in New York City.
It says the defect happens very early during pregnancy inside the womb when the tissues that form the roof of a baby’s mouth and the upper lip do not join together properly.
With a cleft lip, the skin of the upper lip is split on one or both sides of the mouth, and the gap can extend beyond the base of the nose.
With a cleft palate, there is an opening in the roof of the mouth.
Children may be born with either condition or both.
Babies born with cleft lip usually don’t have feeding difficulties, but those with cleft palate can have trouble latching on to their mothers’ nipples and,thus,can suffer malnutrition.
Causes of clefts
In most cases, researchers believe that cleft is the result of environmental and genetic factors.
An estimated 1,000 children are born in Ghana each year with cleft lip and palate, with one out of 10 dying in their formative years.
The condition is not unique to developing countries.
A baby is born with cleft every three minutes worldwide, according to Operation Smile.
In an interview with some parents of cleft children, they said it was worrying for them to have children with facial disabilities such as cleft, which made it almost impossible to communicate with them.
A parent, Florence Adade, who has a 12-year-old daughter, Mary Asamoah, said she was financially handicapped so she could not pay for the surgical operation of the daughter to correct her deformity although she was aware that surgery could make her daughter speak well.
She said it was great news for her that a unit had been attached to the hospital which could treat cleft patients free of charge.
Another parent, Iddrisu Yakubu, said he was happy because his child who was born with a cleft lip had his surgery at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital paid for by a philanthropist.
He indicated that he could not have afforded to pay the medical fees and thanked God for such an intervention by the philanthropist.
The Eastern Regional Director of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Winfred Ofosu, for his part said residents of the region, especially Koforidua, were fortunate to have such a unit since only the teaching hospitals in Ghana had them.
He explained that every human being had to communicate well and be happy in life, hence the need to have such a new facility to take care of patients with communications problems.
The unit, he therefore indicated, would help treat such patients, both children and adults.
Some stroke patients unable to speak, he stated, would also be catered for at the new centre.