Foundation aims to fix hundreds of cleft lips for free

2016-07-11 18:10
Dr Sikki Singh together with his daughter Sureka. (Kaveel Singh, News24)

Dr Sikki Singh together with his daughter Sureka. (Kaveel Singh, News24)

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Durban - Dr Sikki Singh, a renowned orthodontist in Durban North, KwaZulu-Natal, whose foundation is providing free help to hundreds born with cleft lips or palates, believes that being a South African means helping your fellow countrymen.

Singh, 71, is the founder of the Wentworth Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has treated over 500 patients from birth until age 18.

"You find that many facilities conduct the initial treatment, but we are one of the few who start at birth and continue until the patient is in adolescence."

At no charge, the foundation treats around 80 patients per month, mostly from rural KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, Singh said.

"On the days that we treat patients, there is a long line going outside our practice from the night before. These are some of the most impoverished people in this part of the country."

Poor communities require follow-ups

According to Singh, imperative follow-up treatments are not common in poor communities. He added that there are other variables apart from the physical deformity.

"There is also a psychological impact on parents seeing their child with a facial deformity. There are a number of challenges for parents including feeding, hearing, breathing and speaking. Social stigma is also a major issue, which often leaves these individuals ostracised from their community. We have seen cases where parents abandon their children."

He said that apart from the Wentworth Foundation, there were no other facilities in KZN that offered follow-up treatments to the poor.

He said that even specialist hospitals, such the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, only perform the initial surgery, to repair the malformation.

"To correct the deformity additional surgeries and treatments can be necessary. Patients need to see speech therapists to help them learn how to speak or breathe properly. Treatment can take years."

Humble beginnings

WATCH Dr Sikki Singh explain how his foundation helps children:

Singh told News24 that his journey is one of humble beginnings in the Mayville, Cato Manor area during the 1960s.

After being sent to Wits University and University of Cape Town under much financial strain, Singh said he came back to KZN as one of the first orthodontists of colour.

"I come from a family of humble beginnings. I lived in the Cato Manor area in Mayville in the 60s. My father was a blockman and we were a family of eight living in a tin roof home."

Finding a calling

Singh first began his work in the plastic surgery department at the Wentworth Provincial Hospital, located within the impoverished community of Wentworth, south of Durban. Here, he headed up treating and rehabilitating facial deformity cases that required an advanced level of dental care.

"While I was working at Wentworth Hospital, I really felt close to the people. Because of where I came from, it was here that I realised I needed to provide a free service to the poorer communities."

However, due to a high volume of cases and limited funding at the hospital, Singh resolved to begin the Wentworth Foundation in 1991.

"We decided we wanted to set up this foundation and raise more funding for this work."

Financial strain

According to Singh, the treatment for one person with a cleft lip or palate can cost more than R1m from birth until an individual's teenage years.

"For us it costs around R30 000 to initially treat one patient. The cost of this privately ranges from R50 000 to R70 000."

The organisation has thus far been largely funded by the South African Dental Association in KwaZulu-Natal as well as private dental practitioners and general donations. But Singh said that with demand for services increasing, the organisation is feeling the financial strain.

"To do orthodontics is expensive, but we simply hope to help as much as we possibly can."

He said he the foundation encouraged the public to "adopt a child".

"What we do here is unique in that we assist the child until he or she comes of age. With funding, we are hoping to encourage people to adopt a child and observe the difference they can make in a child's life."

Singh said his work was a calling and encouraged others to help.

"I have never seen myself as an Indian living in South Africa. I am a South African. As South Africans our only calling should be helping one another. I will do this for as long as I can. We all need to help in whatever way we can."

If you would like to assist the Wentworth Foundation, visit their website.

Read more on:    durban  |  health

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