`Consanguinity may cause cleft lip'

CHENNAI NOV. 13. Thirteen-year-old Murugan (not his real name) had to drop out of school because he could not keep up with other students in his class, as he was having an inherited facial problem and his speech was unintelligible.

But toddlers and infants waiting in the plastic surgery section of the outpatient department of the Ramachandra Hospital (SRMC) at Porur may never face a cruel world because of such birth defects. Jyotsna Murthy has been running a campaign in her department to rehabilitate these children, while her team of doctors surgically correct the deformity.

"If two siblings are born with cleft lip/palate then there is a 15 per cent chance that the deformity would be carried to the next generation", says Dr. Murthy, Director, Sri Ramachandra Cleft and Craniofacial Centre, SRMC. "Only 50 per cent of the children come for treatment. Mothers take their children to a doctor with complaints that the child does not feed. Usually the doctor advices her to continue feeding". The department has advised mothers on feeding techniques.

Every year the department performs hundreds of free surgeries to correct cleft lip and/or palate. In the waiting area of the plastic surgery ward, an eight-minute film runs continuously explaining how the deformity is corrected.

Cleft lip and/or palate is a hole or slit in the lip or palate. Children with this deformity do not feed well. Most of the food taken in is thrown out of the slit. Speech is impaired and unintelligible. In some cases, hearing is lost. Doctors in rural areas are unable to recommend surgery as the child is in poor health because of poor feeding.

"The child expels milk and will never gain weight. Its haemoglobin count is low and surgery has to be postponed", Syed Altaf Hussain, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, at the hospital says. Clefts in the lip and palate are common defects found in children of the lower socio economic groups. One child in 600 live births could suffer from this deformity. Consanguinity could cause cleft lip/palate. At least 40 per cent of marriages in Chennai's slums are consanguineous, Dr. Murthy says.