Vincent gets a new lease of life

Vincent before and after the operation. Photo: Robim Wyatt, Freelancer.

Looking different from the rest of the people in his community was something that Vincent Botha of Madebe area in Rumphi District had had to live with since birth. Vincent had lived with a unilateral complete cleft lip – a more serious form of cleft – for 43 years.  Cleft lip is a facial and oral malformation that occurs very early in pregnancy, while the baby is developing inside the mother. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not join together properly.

Highlights

  • To date 102 patients with cleft-lip have been operated on at Mzuzu Central Hospital
  • 44 UNV doctors have been recruited and deployed in Malawi Government Hospitals
  • Approximately 5, 000 health workers trained in new HIV Guidelines and monitoring of activities

“Life was not easy for me when I was growing up, I noticed that I had an open  mouth different from my peers and this made me very uncomfortable because my friends never got used to how I looked”, explained Vincent.

Malawi being one of the poorest countries in Africa faces a lot of challenges in terms of its medical services. Currently, government hospitals are running short of essential drugs, this is forcing patients not to visit the health centers even when they are sick. They prefer buying painkillers from a shop and may visit the hospitals when and only if they are critically ill and need urgent care and treatment. With this background, it is unusual for people in the village to realize that cleft – lip is a condition that is curable and for them to seek medical attention. On the other hand, operating on cleft lip still remains a challenge in Malawi as there are a few experts that are able to do this procedure.

When Vincent heard that there was a doctor who was doing procedure on people with cleft-lips, he visited Mzuzu Central Hospital. While there, he met Dr. Amile Caspillo who examined him and booked him for an operation. Today, Vincent lives a normal life just like any other man in his village, “At first I could not believe it when I saw my new face in the mirror and I cried. Thanks to Dr. Caspillo for giving me a new life”, he explained.

Since 2009, Dr. Amiel Caspillo, a United Nations Volunteer and a Dental Surgeon, who remains  the only doctor in the whole country conducting procedures on cleft-lip, has operated on 102 patients with unilateral and bilateral cleft lips. This has been made possible with funding from Smile Train which is an international children’s charity.

Dr. Caspillo could not hide his happiness seeing the outcome of a procedure he just did. “” I am happy and l love my job, if feels great and content to see people smiling after the procedure”, he explained.

Currently, Malawi has 44 UNV doctors deployed in all the four main Central Hospitals (Queen Elizabeth, Kamuzu , Zomba and Mzuzu) under the Capacity Development in Health Project. Apart from providing health care services to the citizenry, these UNV doctors have been very instrumental in transferring skills to Malawian junior doctors and other cadres within the health sector.  The ART supervisors under the same project have trained approximately 5, 000 health workers in new HIV Guidelines and monitoring of the activities. On a daily basis, the UNVs are involved in bed-side training and mentoring of the junior doctors.  They also conduct case study sessions where, with their counterparts, go through and analyze the previous cases and look at what worked and what did not work as a way of improving on their performance.  UNV doctors carryout outreach activities in district hospitals and assist in skills transfer to clinical officers on how to handle different cases.  

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