Cultural Beliefs About Cleft Lip or Palate Can Harm Patients Even After Surgical Repair

The authors of an article featured in the Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal explore cultural perceptions and beliefs about cleft lip and palate through a series of interviews. The results of the study suggest that psychosocial support and public health and awareness campaigns should seek to help those with cleft lip or palate in developing countries.

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Surgical care alone cannot heal the effects of a cleft lip or palate.

Lawrence, KS (PRWEB) December 09, 2013

Beliefs about why a cleft lip or palate occurs can have a lasting impact on the lives of people with this anomaly. In some countries, superstitions and self-blaming contribute to stigmatization, shame and isolation. Treatment for cleft lip or palate must include not only reparative surgery, but holistic care of the patient and education of the broader community.

The article, “Causal Attributions of Cleft Lip and Palate Across Cultures,” appears in the current issue of The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal. Perceptions and beliefs about cleft lip and palate are explored through interviews with 279 adult patients and parents of children with cleft lip or palate in Kenya, Russia, Cambodia, India, Egypt, and Peru.

The interviews were conducted in conjunction with Operation Smile, a nonprofit organization that supports medical missions in more than 100 countries each year. Operation Smile is dedicated to repairing clefts of patients in developing countries, helping to address speech difficulties, poor nutrition, ear disease, and dental problems. But surgical care alone cannot heal the effects of a cleft lip or palate.

Culturally held beliefs can negatively affect individuals with a cleft as well as their families. Hindu people in India believe that a cleft is a result of a sin from a past life. Witchcraft, the will of God, and actions such as looking at a child with a deformity while pregnant are among other religious and cultural beliefs that have been expressed as a cause of clefts. Where these beliefs are present, a family might not be accepted in society or parents may not form attachments with an affected child.

This study found that people in India and Egypt most often attributed clefts to supernatural causes. Study participants in Peru most often indicated an internal cause, blaming themselves for this condition. Russians were the only participants to name environmental causes, with some parents expressing concern about living in proximity to nuclear plants. In Kenya and Cambodia, most participants said they did not know the cause of clefts.

Medical missions need to be aware of the local social and cultural beliefs surrounding this physical anomaly. Psychosocial support and public health and awareness campaigns should be integrated into the efforts of organizations seeking to help those with cleft lip or palate in developing countries.

Full text of the article, “Causal Attributions of Cleft Lip and Palate Across Cultures,” Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal, Vol. 50, No. 6, November 2013, is available.


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  • Kristen Vermeire
    Allen Press, Inc.
    +1 (800) 627-0326 Ext: 410
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