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Children with cleft lip now see hope in Africa

OUAGADOUGOU -- Accused of witchcraft or sorcery, children with cleft lips or palates are often driven into hiding in several African countries, forced to live as outcasts unless they receive an early operation.

In the Suka clinic in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou, a volunteer recounts the story of one young mother made to flee her village after giving birth to a “cursed child.”

“She was forced to hide in the bush, like an animal, and live off what she found there,” he said. “A traveler ran into her, took pity and brought her to Ouagadougou.”

Many parents hide such children — fearing they will be taunted or made into pariahs — due to the lack of available medical care.

“When he was born I was so sad that I could no longer eat,” said Habibatou Saaba, whose 18-month-old son Zidan was born with a cleft lip.

But Zidan has been given a second chance by the doctors at the Suka clinic, who are funded by Canadian charity Mission Sourires d'Afrique (Smiles of Africa).

His entire future is at stake, said Saaba as she paced the corridor of the clinic, waiting for the operation to finish. She said she wants him to be a nurse when he grows up, like the staff at the clinic.

“Until today she has been hiding her son,” said her sister-in-law, who was also at the clinic. “I asked her why she would do that and she said she had been asked too many questions. Grown-ups would just stare at him.”

In the West, children with the condition generally receive an operation within three months of being born, but specialized care of this nature remains rare across Africa, even though the operation costs only US$250 (180 euros).

'So much stigma'

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