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On a mission for cleft children in Rwanda

From February 2nd to February 12th, our German-African East Africa team went on their yearly joint mission. The project has been run on a voluntary basis for many years now by the experienced oral and maxillofacial surgeons Dr. Dr. Oliver Blume from Munich and Gunther Au-Balbach from Solingen. The head surgeon on site is Dr. Laurent Siborurema from Rwanda, head anesthetist is Dr. Emmanuel Munyarugero from Uganda.

The location is Rwamagana in the east of Rwanda, about an hour’s drive from the capital Kigali. A total of 30 patients were treated in ten days, this time only children. At the beginning of our activities in Africa, there were still many adults who had to wait years for their surgery. It is a great success that today there are almost only children waiting to be treated.

The youngest patients are just two months old. Some have very severe clefts. These surgeries require a lot of skill from both the surgeon and the anesthetist.

Sifa, 16, is the oldest patient. Her cleft lip had already been treated. Unfortunately, that was where her treatment ended. For her entire life, Sifa has had to live with an open palate. Sadly we often see this. The parents have their children’s lips closed so that the visible problem is gone, but the palate is not treated. The consequences are fatal. As the child grows, so does the cleft. Sifa’s cleft palate was huge, approximately 4 x 2 cm. The girl cannot eat and drink properly due to the hole in her palate, and she hardly speaks. Now she finally receives the treatment she needs to live an unhindered life. Her cleft palate is closed in an operation that takes almost three hours. Sifa can hardly believe her luck. When she leaves, she is able to pronounce her own name. For the first time in her life.

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Cleft child Josiane, 6 months old, after her surgery
The German-Rwandan team: Dr. Laurent Siborurema, Dr. Dr. Oliver Blume, Gunther Au-Balbach (left to right)
Oliver Blume with 16 year old Sifa after her palate surgery
The anaesthetists: Dr. Emmanuel from Uganda (right) and Léonard from Rwanda
One of the youngest patients before the surgery…
… and after.
After the mission: Joy and gratitude.
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Words of thanks
“Dear Dr. Oliver, I wish you could have stayed longer. But your other duties do not allow that. I have learned a lot from you and will put the knowledge that you have passed on to me to good use. May God bless the work of your hands and guide your ways. I can’t find the right words to express my gratitude, a “thank you” alone seems hardly enough.” (Turabyo J Léonard, Clinical Anaesthetist Officer, Rwamagana Provincial Hospital, Februar 2020)

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Training of local doctors

Our years of patient buildup work in East Africa are bearing fruit. In the past ten years we have managed to build an African team that regularly treats cleft  children with the necessary surgeries. The African team is led by Dr. Laurent. He independently organizes and carries out missions in Rwanda and Tanzania. Dr. Laurent was trained by Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach. The training of additional doctors from Somalia and Kenya is in planning. This is the only way we can further expand our help for cleft children in East Africa. And this work is desperately needed: many children are still waiting for their surgery.