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Saving Smiles, Changing Lives, is what Rotoplast International, which is based in San Francisco, California has been doing since its establishment in 1992 by Dr. Angelo Capozzi and the then Rotary Club president Peter Lagarias. Rotoplast is a non-profit organization that provides free constructive operations and treatments for children around the world. The organization started its mission with the aim to eliminate the incidence of untreated cleft lips and palates in children worldwide by 2025. Twenty-two countries have hosted Rotoplast including Ethiopia.
Clefts of the lip and palate are among the most common of all birth defects. As common as they are though, the treatment is not common. Untreated children are often ridiculed, rejected from society and often deprived of education wich results in them leading a dysfunctional life. Besides the emotional problems, they will also suffer from upper respiratory problems, hearing loss, speech and dental problems.
Rotoplas has been working in Ethiopia since 2006. It works together with Cure Hospital in Addis Ababa by bringing volunteer medical teams that include reconstructive surgeons with special training in cleft care, pediatricians, nurses, pediatric anesthesiologists, dentists, orthodontists, and speech pathologists while the hospital provides facilities where the operations and postop care is done.
Even though the entire Rotary clubs in Ethiopia work together, Addis Ababa Rotary East Club is the major partner of Rotoplast in Ethiopia. The club is in contact with Rotoplast teams from different countries who are volunteering to come to Ethiopia and work. It arranges all the necessary things to accommodate the medical team on their mission.
“We help the medical team by for example helping them with customs because they do bring some medical equipment’s with them, communicating with Ministry of Health for them,” stated DerejeGebre, member of Addis Ababa Rotary East Club.
“For our club to be a part of this project gives us great satisfaction, it is really a wonderful thing these medical teams and hospital are doing. They are giving these children their life,” he also stated.
Most of the time the medical team that comes to give the services stays in the country for two weeks, then another medical team comes and that’s how it rotates.
“We provide free cleft palate reconstructive surgery for patents that don’t have the financial means to get it otherwise. Rotoplast does 10 to 15 reconstructive surgery missions throughout the world very year,” stated Ann Delaini who is the Medical Director of the current mission in Ethiopia.
The current medical team arrived in Ethiopia on 16th of September 2012 and will be leaving when their two weeks is up.
“We come from the part of the world where we have so much and it is the right thing to give back and help those who are less fortunate. In our country if children are born with these kinds of defects, it is automatically fixed, there is no question of money but it’s not the same in all countries. So we have an obligation to help and do what we can to change lives,” said Ken Funk who is the Mission Director from Canada.
He also stated that because of lack of education for families and because they don’t understand what causes these defects, they are ashamed of it. Most of them don’t realize that it is actually an easy problem to fix.
“Children with these defects don’t usually go to school or play with other children and it is not fair to them, I’m a retired business man and I feel like this is really something I need to do, that’s why I’m involved in this,” he said.
Since the medical team arrived, they have already completed 24 constructive surgeries.
“The missions can range from 40 to over 100 surgeries. It depends on where we go, how many patients and how many operating rooms. Right now we have two operating rooms, we have been very fortunate to use Cure Hospital because it is very well equipped,” Ann explained.
Statistics suggests that one in 672 births will have the defect in Ethiopia, meaning it is not rare. The statistics also suggests that there is only one doctor for every 100,000 in very few plastic surgeons in Addis Ababa.
“The children born with these defects, because they are on the face and they can’t hide it, it cuts every interaction that they have; it is a burden on the families and the community. The surgeries that are done to fix the problems are relatively simple, and if we can provide that it makes a big difference,” says Ann.