By Mike Mwaniki
Smile Train, a charity organisation which supports free corrective comprehensive care for patients with cleft lip and palate, marked 100,000 cleft surgeries in Africa, with a call on governments to support the cause.
In Kenya, Smile Train partnered with several county governments to train surgeons on the latest technology for cleft surgeries to improve the outcome for patients.
Smile Train’s President and CEO Susannah Schaefer committed to support additional outreach efforts to impact more cleft patients across the continent.
Additionally, the organisation is working on a programme for training community health workers on how to identify cleft patients from the grassroots level, while also sensitising communities on the need to seek early treatment for patients with such conditions.
“We are able to do so with the support from our local medical partners, corporate partners, donors, patients and their families, ambassadors, and local community members who have all played an important role in ensuring that every child , no matter where they are born has access to quality cleft care,” Ms Schaefer noted.
Smile Train has been actively supporting programmes in Africa since 2002.
During that period, the organisation has developed local partnerships at 244 partner hospitals.
The organisation has actively supported training of nurses, anaesthetists, surgeons, speech therapists and orthodontists in cleft care, nutrition programmes, speech therapy and orthodontics.
“Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training and education so that they can provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in their own communities.”
Ms Schaefer added that Smile Train’s singular focus on cleft treatment has enabled the organisation to support safe, quality and consistent cleft care for children in need all over the world, including 33 countries in Africa.
Unlike other cleft charities, Schaefer said, Smile Train builds the capacity of local health systems; fostering hope, confidence and lifestyle for both patients and communities-at-large.
The Vice-President and Regional Director, Dr Esther Njoroge observed that the strength of the organisation’s local partnerships throughout Africa has made the 100,000th cleft surgery milestone possible.
“The impact of cleft is far more than just cosmetic – children with clefts that go untreated often have difficulty eating, breathing, speaking and ultimately thriving,” Dr Njoroge said, adding that many of the children face stigma.
“That is why Smile Train’s local partnership model is so important – it is vital in giving children and their families access to quality care, 365 days a year. Our 100,000th cleft surgery is a true celebration of our partnerships and an example of what can be achieved with sustained support and collaboration.”
Smile Train says it is keen on sustainable empowerment programmes that give local medical partners the opportunity to build capacity.
Experts say more than 200,000 children are estimated to be born with a cleft every year, with Kenya recording an annual figure of 1,300 cleft births annually.
According to experts, clefts are the leading birth defect in many developing countries.
“No one knows exactly what the cause of a cleft lip and palate is but most experts agree that there are multiple causes and may include a genetic predisposition as well as environmental issues such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, maternal illness, infections and lack of folic acid.”
Smile Train Africa is continuing to lead the way in addressing cleft as a serious global health issue and will continue to invest in surgical and training innovation, the organisation said in a press release.
At the same time, the organisation will also build on its strategic partnership with global health organisations in highlighting the risks posed by clefts and palates.
Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children globally.