While a child with cleft lip is born every three minutes in the world, India has one of the highest number of cases, says Hermann F. Sailer, president of the Cleft-Children International (CCI), based in Zurich, Switzerland.
It is estimated that close to 15 children million untreated cases are in India alone. About 32,000 to 35,000 children born every year with cleft lip and palate.
CCI is a non-profit foundation operating on children affected by cleft lip and palate. It is currently providing free surgical correction in five specialised medical centres in India and is planning to set up ten more such centres across the country.
Prof. Sailer was in Hyderabad recently to interact with doctors at a premier plastic surgery institute and where the CCI-assisted cleft lip surgeries are performed.
"Cleft" is used to describe any of the most common congenital oral-facial deformities. It is popularly referred to as "hare lip" or "hair lip."
It appears around the lip or palate of a developing foetus during 4-8 weeks of pregnancy. In normal cases, during this time, the two halves of the lip and palate tissue fuse together to form a normal structure. But owing to various reasons, the tissue doesn't join properly, resulting in cleft.
Though definite causes of cleft lip still remained unclear, folic acid deficiency during pregnancy, consanguineous marriages and certain environmental and genetic factors were associated with cleft formation. Also it occurred more in boys than in girls.
CCI president Sailer said he intended to set up one centre each year - UP, Delhi and north-east are among the locations considered.
He said CCI had so far trained 170 doctors in the country and around 13,000 surgeries were performed on children with cleft lip. In most cases, a child with cleft lip and palate would have to undergo three to four surgeries by the time he or she turns 10. He said the centres set up in India were as good as the one operating at Zurich.
Calling for eradication of the prejudice against children with cleft lip, Prof. Sailer said such kids were found to have higher IQ than the normal ones.