CURE Zambia Opens Cleft Care Center

Imagine instead of watching your baby grow plump rolls of fat on their tiny legs, you see them get thinner and thinner because they can’t correctly nurse or bottle-feed. Imagine instead of watching your toddler experience the joy of sounding out their first words, you see them struggle to speak. 

That’s the reality for many parents whose babies are born with cleft lip and/or palate, an opening in the upper lip and/or roof of the mouth that can cause complications with eating and speaking, among other issues. 

Because all children with cleft conditions deserve the very best treatment that we would want and expect for our own kids, on 23 April 2024, Beit-CURE Children’s Hospital of Zambia (CURE Zambia) celebrated the opening of a brand-new Cleft Care Center.    

In addition to the hospital’s modern operating room for surgery, the center contains spaces for ear, nose, and throat (ENT) care, orthodontia and dental treatment, speech therapy, and counseling—all critical aspects of caring for a child with a cleft condition until they’re completely healed. There is also a dedicated children’s play area and room to teach nutrition support and food preparation to ensure every patient’s dietary needs are met.

The building of the new Cleft Care Center at CURE Zambia began in early September 2023 and concluded in December.
The building of the new Cleft Care Center at CURE Zambia began in early September 2023 and concluded in December.

“With the ongoing comprehensive care we offer, CURE Zambia will be able to better meet the growing need in the region for quality cleft care,” said CURE President/CEO Justin Narducci. 

The Cleft Care Center at CURE Zambia was made possible through the generosity of many families who support CURE. 

Life-Changing Services Where Little Help Is Available

Basic healthcare throughout Zambia, a country of almost 19 million, is often underresourced or inaccessible. And parents seeking specialized care for their children born with life-limiting cleft conditions quickly discover that surgical care is scarce, leaving them facing a lifetime of issues. 

Thankfully, the new Cleft Care Center at CURE Zambia will help alleviate this burden by providing surgical and postsurgical care for all patients. 

The center—the first in Zambia and only one of a handful in Africa—will be led by the hospital’s first full-time in-house Pediatric Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Meredith Workman. Her arrival at CURE Zambia in January 2023 made the hospital only one of two in the country that provide plastic surgery services.

Dr. Workman is a board-certified Plastic Surgeon with over ten years of surgical experience in pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery. She served for four years as a Director of the cleft team at DMG Children’s Rehabilitative Services in Phoenix, Arizona.

A US native, Dr. Meredith is Zambia’s only Pediatric Plastic Surgeon, bringing life-changing care to the country’s approximately 500-800 children born with cleft conditions annually. “While hundreds of children born with a cleft have been healed at our hospital, this facility will allow us to reach the thousands more who eagerly await their turn to be healed,” she said.

Until Dr. Meredith’s arrival, CURE Zambia did not have a full-time surgeon dedicated to performing cleft lip and palate surgeries. Instead, the hospital relied heavily on visiting surgeons from the United States, making much-needed follow-up care for patients challenging. 

For the first time, CURE Zambia can now provide consistent and comprehensive care in-house to address the physical, nutritional, and psychological needs of approximately 250 children with cleft conditions annually—all at no cost to their families. Their treatment will be paid for by generous CURE donors. 

Dr. Meredith prepares a patient for cleft lip surgery.

According to Dr. Meredith, “This center enables consistent access to care and postoperative treatment for all children. And with this consistency, there’s improved quality of care and tracking of outcomes.” 

At the Cleft Care Center at CURE Zambia, a multidisciplinary team of specialists will assess every child’s needs and provide a coordinated treatment plan. 

Why Comprehensive Cleft Care Is Important

The new Cleft Care Center will provide surgical care, orthodontia and dental services, speech therapy, nutritional support, and counseling for patients and their families.

A child born with a cleft condition in Zambia does not have the same opportunities in life as other children. Clefts can result in many complications, including difficulty breathing and eating (which can lead to malnutrition), as well as dental problems, ear infections, and permanent hearing and speech disabilities. 

Then there is also the social stigma. Children with clefts often face challenges in social interactions due to their appearance and speech difficulties. They are subjected to teasing, bullying, and exclusion, significantly harming their emotional well-being and self-esteem.

But CURE is working diligently to give these kids hope and confidence with a new smile—and to seeing every patient through the complete healing process. 

“We’ll be there for you when you hold them before surgery, and we will be there with you every day as you walk to a happier, healthier future,” says Dr. Meredith. 

Scaling Zambia’s comprehensive cleft care model across the network, CURE is revolutionizing the treatment of cleft conditions throughout Africa by adding reconstructive plastic service lines at our hospitals in Zimbabwe and Malawi as well. 

One child who’s on her way to a happier and healthier future thanks to CURE’s comprehensive cleft care is Sandra, who will be treated at the new center in Zambia. 

After surgery at CURE to correct her cleft conditions, little Sandra no longer has issues feeding.

Sandra first came to CURE at a year old and was struggling to breastfeed because of her cleft lip and palate. Now, after life-changing surgery at CURE, she is able to feed without any challenges! 

“Everyone keeps asking, ‘Who’s this baby?’ because they can not recognize her anymore,” Carol, Sandra’s mother, shared.

Sandra recently returned to the hospital for a check-up and, as part of her comprehensive care, will be scheduled for speech therapy to help her start talking. Thanks to the new center, CURE Zambia will be able to provide hope and transformative care to thousands more children like Sandra for many years to come. 

Photo of the CURE International Canada

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