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For many children in developing countries being born with a cleft lip and palate means social exclusion right from the start and life-long suffering on a physical and emotional level.
The survival of a cleft baby can be at risk immediately after birth: a sufficient degree of suction cannot be created during breastfeeding on account of the cleft palate. The infant can only manage to feed successfully if the mother learns a special feeding technique. Food and drink are also considerable problems for older cleft children. As a consequence, the affected children in the developing countries are often malnourished and prone to infections.
Due to the lack of pressure balance when swallowing the ventilation of the middle ear is reduced. This can lead to fluid retention and hence to middle ear infections. In medically ill-equipped countries there is often a lack of important ENT care. The operative exposure of grommets can drain of the fluids. Persistent fluid congestions have fatal consequences for the children whose language development is already disturbed by the cleft: they can not hear well, and are additionally affected when learning to speak.
The emotional suffering of these children is almost unimaginable. Due to their appearance they are often separated from society by their family, in the worst cases they are even kept locked away. The birth of a child with a deformity of the face is a cause for despair for many of the parents. They see their cleft child as a “curse” or a stroke of fate. As they often do not know that their child can easily be treated with an operation they try to hide it from friends, relatives and neighbours. Thousands of children in the developing countries thus vegetate for years in dark corners or back rooms. The parents themselves are also victims of the congenital deformation and take their actions out of shame, fear of social isolation and a lack of knowledge of the possibilities of successful treatment. They wish for nothing more than a normal life for their child.