Second cleft care mission to Jijiga, Ethiopia

Our first aid mission to Jijiga, Ethiopia only took place in November 2022. Of the approximately 200 patients who registered then, we were able to successfully provide surgery to 73 over the one week duration of our visit. Given the great need for help we saw, we resolved to come back as soon as possible. We returned to Jijiga from June 19 to 24, 2023.

Helping where no other help is available

Jijiga lies near the border with Somalia and serves as the capital of the Somali region of Ethiopia. We had not expected the large crowds that came to seek help during our first mission. The majority of the families are nomads, without a permanent residence. The poverty is obvious. While the average age of our patients worldwide has dropped encouragingly over the last twenty years of helping children with cleft malformations, and our teams now mainly encounter babies in most of our projects, many of the children in Jijiga are older, and there are also adults. Some of them have had to live with their cleft lip and/or an open palate for many years. We only have one week in Jijiga – not enough time to provide surgery to all these patients. There is a long waiting list: almost 100 children who either cannot receive surgery because their state of health does not allow it or because there is not enough time. And another 30 patients who need a second surgery because they have both cleft lip and cleft palate.

In planning our second aid mission, we are again supported by the local team of Karamara General Hospital, who had hosted our mission back in November as well. They call the families on the waiting list and try to reach as many of them as possible. When we finally return to Jijiga in June 2023, some 70 families are waiting in front of the hospital. In some cases, it is a joyful reunion with children and parents whom we had already met during our first mission.

Three international teams, one mission

We are warmly welcomed in Jijiga. Ali, the founder and president of our partner organization Somcare, is already on location to oversee the final preparations. A large Ethiopian team of nurses, operating theater assistants and anesthesia technicians lends us their support during our stay, as well as the two young Ethiopian surgeons Dr. Samater and Dr. Abdinasir.

As during our first visit, we are again working with a multinational team. In November, specialist doctors recruited through our Cleft Bangladesh project had volunteered to help the cleft children in Ethiopia. This time, our Cleft Pakistan partner and friend Prof. Ganatra has come, alongside the Pakistani anesthesiologists Dr. Alamgir and Dr. Asif and surgical assistant Nasrullah. The German team: Dr. Ulrike Lamlé with her daughter, Patricia Lamlé, who has just completed her medical studies, and Andrea Weiberg, Managing Director of Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe.

The happy result of an intense week: 53 successful surgeries and new friendships between the three cultures.

Investing in the future

It has always been our approach to establish local structures in our projects to help children with cleft lip and palate. During our first two stays in Jijiga, we have succeeded in winning a committed local team for our mission. Karamara General Hospital serves as the local contact point for patients after our departure, taking care of follow-up care and organizing patient lists for coming aid missions.

The two local surgeons Dr. Samater and Dr. Abdinasir accompanied our missions with great interest, assisted in surgeries and even carried out their first cleft surgeries under supervision. Both are keen to learn more and are very interested in receiving specialist training in cleft surgery. A first training stay for Dr. Samater in Pakistan, under the tutelage of Prof. Ganatra, is planned for 2023. This is a key step in our plan to establish a permanent cleft project in Jijiga: An investment in the future.

Impressions from Jijiga