Some 2,500 children with cleft lip and palate are born in Vietnam each year. Our Vietnamese surgeon Dr. Ai has great expertise in treating them as one of our longstanding partners in Vietnam. This and his commitment to helping the minorities in the country make him so valuable for our work. Dr. Ai comes from a simple farming family. As the oldest son, he had the privilege of being able to study. Since then he has worked tirelessly and with great commitment to minorities and the poor population in his homeland. Thousands of cleft children have already benefited from his skills.
One of them is little Phang, who lives in one of the poorest regions of Vietnam with his family. The small mountain village is cut off from all modern civilization. The inhabitants belong to one of the numerous ethnic minorities in Vietnam. They speak their own language, live in their own world and culture. Minorities have a hard time in Vietnam. The family of eight lives in a simple wooden house: Phang, his older brother, his parents, grandparents and two uncles. There is no electricity, no running water. Phang’s father farms two rice fields, keeps pigs, chickens and goats. His mother takes care of the household of the extended family.
Phang is the youngest, and cause for much worry. The little one has a large double cleft and an open palate. This means that he will never learn to speak properly and will be dependent on the protection and help of his parents all his life! His mother never lets him out of her sight. Whatever she does, she has Phang with her.
A provincial doctor contacts Dr. Ai. When he hears about Phang, it was immediately clear to him that he had to help the boy and his family. Shortly afterwards, the surgeon makes his way to the family. Despite the language barrier – only Phang’s father speaks some Kinh, the official national language of Vietnam – he can convince the parents to consent to the operation. Phang is 17 months old when Dr. Ai performs the first surgery on him in Hanoi in January 2019. The result is impressive. Eight months later, Phang’s parents make another long trip to the city to enable their son to have palate surgery. A great vote of confidence for Dr. Ai.
The people of Vietnam still suffer from the long-term consequences of the war over 40 years later. Still, an above-average number of children with severe malformations and disabilities are born. One of the reasons for this is the use of Agent Orange, a defoliant containing dioxins, during the Vietnam War. The birth rate of children with cleft lip and palate is estimated to be three times higher in Vietnam than in Germany. There are hardly any treatment options for cleft children in Vietnam. In addition, very few parents can afford the intervention. Many patients have to suffer from their malformation and the resulting functional, aesthetic and emotional problems throughout their lives.