Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft organisation, said it has facilitated 100 per cent free, life-changing cleft surgeries to more than 18,600 individuals, marking a 13 per cent increase from the previous year.
Globally, approximately 1 in 700 babies are born with clefts, a common birth difference that can severely impact their ability to breathe, eat, speak, and thrive without treatment. Children born with untreated clefts often face stigmatisation and bullying, hindering their socialisation and educational opportunities.
An independent study revealed that each primary cleft surgery can generate up to $50,000 in economic benefits, considering that a cleft surgery costs around $250. Smile Train not only offers free cleft surgeries but also comprehensive cleft care, including nutrition, speech therapy, orthodontics, and psychosocial support to enable patients to lead fulfilling lives. In the previous year, more than 1,200 patients benefited from comprehensive cleft care interventions.
Smile Train’s vice president and regional director for Africa, Nkeiruka Obi attributed this transformative impact to strategic collaborations and investments in comprehensive cleft care, research, and innovation. She highlighted the role of dedicated medical professionals and the guidance of the Africa Medical Advisory Council (AMAC). The intentional investments address patients’ needs while empowering medical professionals to deliver top-notch surgical and anesthesia care within local communities. Obi emphasised the importance of collaborative efforts with governments, corporate partners, NGOs and institutions to achieve progress towards Universal Health Coverage.
The exact causes of clefts are still unknown, but factors such as genetics, certain medications, and smoking could play a role. Smile Train actively dispels myths and misinformation related to this condition while collaborating with local medical professionals.
Since 2002, Smile Train has established more than 700 local partnerships with partner hospitals and over 300 medical partners in 42 African countries to provide free cleft treatment. To date, their local medical partners have conducted over 170,000 life-changing cleft surgeries in the region. Their commitment to education and training is evident through partnerships with organizations like the Scottish Charity KidsOR, the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA), as well as the West African College of Surgeons (WACS) to provide scholarships in various categories.
Smile Train has significantly enhanced Africa’s surgical workforce by certifying 25 new cleft specialist surgeons, training 40 fellows, and providing education for 11 anesthesia fellows with the College of Anesthesiologists of East Central and Southern Africa (CANECSA) and Pediatric Anaesthesia Training in Africa (PATA). Moreover, 400 in-house workshops have elevated the skills of over 1,000 cleft care providers, including nurses, surgical instrument maintenance personnel, orthodontists and speech therapists.
In a recent development, Smile Train has laid the foundation for Africa’s first Cleft Leadership Centre in Ghana. The centre aims to empower cleft professionals with the skills to deliver global standards of care at the local level, further solidifying Smile Train’s commitment to transforming lives and fostering sustainable change.