Smile Train provides life-changing surgeries to over 18,600 patients with clefts in one year

The world’s largest cleft organization, Smile Train,  says it has through its sustainable partnership model experienced groundbreaking growth in Africa, providing 100% free life-changing cleft surgeries to more than 18,600 beneficiaries in the last financial year 2023.

A statement by PR & Communications Manager, Africa of the organization Emily Manjeru made available to Blueprint, said it reflects a 13 percent growth over the previous year.

It said, “Globally, 1 in 700 babies are born with clefts, a common birth difference which, without treatment, can make it difficult for babies, children, and adults to breathe, eat, speak, and ultimately, to thrive. Children who grow up with untreated clefts are often stigmatized and bullied, unable to socialize or go to school.

“An independent study observed that each primary cleft surgery yielded up to $50,000 in economic benefit (A cleft surgery costs approximately $250). Smile Train offers free cleft surgeries, as well as comprehensive cleft care which includes nutrition, speech therapy, orthodontics, and psychosocial support to enable patients to thrive.”

According to the statement, in the previous year, more than 1200 patients benefited from comprehensive cleft care interventions.

Smile Train’s Vice-President and Regional Director for Africa, Nkeiruka Obi attributed the transformative impact to strategic collaborations and investments in comprehensive cleft care, research and innovation saying: “The positive impact on individuals with clefts we have experienced was borne out of concerted efforts of dedicated medical professionals and counsel of the Africa Medical Advisory Council (AMAC). The intentional programmatic investments address the needs of the patients while empowering medical professionals to provide the highest standards of surgical and anaesthesia care within the local community.”

She added, “If we are to truly achieve Universal Health Coverage, our focus must be set on lifting the burden that people livving in low-resource settings often face due to inequitable access to the much-needed timely safe surgery and anaesthesia care. Wecan achieve progress in this journey through collaborations with government, corporate partners, and non-governmental organizations and institutions.”

“The causes of clefts are still unknown, but it could be associated with environmental factors such as genetics, certain medications and smoking. Smile Train continues to dispel myths and misinformation surrounding the condition while partnering with local medical professionals.

“Since 2002, Smile Train has developed local partnerships with more than 700partner hospitals and over 300 medical partners in 42 countries throughout Africa to provide free cleft treatment.

“To date, Smile Train’s local medical partners have provided more than 170,000 life changing cleft surgeries in the region. Among the strategic investments in education and training include partnerships with Scottish CharityKidsOR, the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) and the West African College of Surgeons (WACS) to provide scholarships in various categories.

“Smile Train has enhanced the surgical workforce in Africa with 25 newly certified cleft specialist surgeons, 40 fellows in training and 11 anesthesia with the College of Anesthesiologists of East Central and Southern Africa (CANECSA) and Pediatric Anesthesia Training in Africa (PATA). In addition, 400 in-house workshops have enhanced the expertise of more than 1,000 cleft care providers including in nursing, surgical instruments maintenance orthodontists, and speech therapy.

“Recently, Smile Train has broken ground in Ghana for Africa’s first Cleft Leadership Centre to build the capacity of cleft professionals to dispense global standards of care at local level,” the statement read.

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