Living with an untreated cleft can have a profound and lasting impact on a child and their family. Studies have shown that living with any facial difference can have a negative impact on mental health and overall quality of life. In addition, untreated cleft lip/palate can also have serious consequences for a child’s physical health and development, as well.
The World Health Organization recognizes that living with an untreated birth defect such as cleft puts children at greater risk for malnutrition, poor health, and poverty.
The challenges of cleft lip and palate begin at birth and can be life-long:
- Infants cannot feed properly and may become malnourished. They are also at a higher risk for respiratory infections.
- Children are often bullied or teased, suffering negative effects on their physical and mental health including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
- Children and adults may have trouble speaking clearly, preventing them from integrating into their societies, getting an education, and finding employment.
- Having a child with cleft can cause an entire family to be ostracized, jeopardizing their support network, mental health, and financial stability.
A lack of education and awareness around cleft makes the lives of children and families more difficult. Many parents are shocked and surprised when their infants are born with clefts because prenatal screening is rare. Especially in rural areas, medical staff have limited advice or guidance for parents, who do not know how to help their infants.
More serious consequences are far too common. In some rural areas, a baby born with cleft is often considered a curse; they can be abandoned by their fathers, and even their mothers. Even with community support, the financial and emotional strain of providing specialized care limits a family’s ability to be active members of their societies.
One simple fact makes all of the consequences of untreated cleft even more devastating: children born with cleft do not have to suffer because we know how to help them.