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AfPE Welcomes Our Newest Member and Partner

Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Smile Train

Every year, more than 200,000 babies are born with a cleft lip and/or palate. When left untreated, children with clefts often have difficulty eating, breathing, speaking, and ultimately thriving—contributing to a higher risk of malnutrition, infections, abandonment, or even death. Many of these children face social stigma, making it challenging for them to attend school or, later in life, find a job. Unfortunately, many children with clefts will never receive treatment, primarily due to the cost or lack of access to trained medical professionals.  

Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft charity, is committed to ensuring that every single child has access to safe and quality cleft care. Smile Train’s sustainable “teach a man to fish” model empowers local medical professionals with training, funding, and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children globally.  

This year at Smile Train, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary of restoring smiles. Since our founding in 1999, Smile Train has grown exponentially. As we move forward, our goal is to continue to make the local programs we support self-sustainable, to continue to invest in surgical and training innovation, and  to expand our cleft services to ensure that all patients can access safe, high-quality, and comprehensive cleft treatment. 

Overcoming Barriers, Strengthening Surgical Systems
Treating a child’s cleft has a life-changing impact on their quality of life, their family, and the community in which they live. Many communities around the world, however, lack local medical professionals trained in cleft treatment. To overcome this barrier, Smile Train leverages cutting-edge technology and innovative training techniques. At Smile Train, the safety of patients is our number one priority, and the medical professionals we work with are committed to continuing education, with the goal of constantly improving the standard of cleft care. 

Smile Train is not only raising the standard of cleft care and safety—we’re setting it. Our Medical Advisory Board has developed a Safety and Quality Protocol that sets standards for safe surgery and anesthesia care for Smile Train medical partners around the world. These standards detail best practices around preoperative and postoperative procedures, equipment, medications, human resources, and reporting of significant surgical events to ensure that all patients receive equitable, high-quality care. 

Comprehensive Cleft Care

Increasing Access to Surgery  

Many children with clefts live too far from the medical facilities where they could receive treatment. Smile Train works with partners to ensure that patients and families receive free transportation when needed. Once patients arrive for evaluation, another common barrier to treatment—malnutrition—must often be addressed. Children with clefts are at a high risk for malnutrition due to factors including physical feeding challenges, increased risk of illness, stigma, and a lack of local nutrition programs. 

To fill this gap, Smile Train has begun to roll out nutrition programs to help children reach age-appropriate weights for safe surgery, in addition to encouraging partners to launch their own programs. Smile Train has also established guidelines and educational resources on feeding infants with clefts, which local partners can build upon and adapt to address their community’s needs. 

When a child is born with a cleft, timely orthodontic care can ensure enhanced surgical results and fewer revision surgeries. Smile Train offers grants for education and training for cleft orthodontists, medical equipment, and treatment grants to support partners in providing orthodontic care to patients.  

Speech Therapy
A significant number of children who are born with clefts require speech therapy following their surgery. The barriers that make accessing surgical care a challenge put speech therapy beyond reach for many patients. To overcome these hurdles, Smile Train works with partners to provide creative speech therapy solutions ranging from “cleft choirs” to intensive speech camps and specialized story books that target speech sounds. 

Amplifying Impact Through Technology
Smile Train has played an integral role in pioneering some of the most cutting-edge advances in cleft care, including the organization’s:

  1. Award-winning Virtual Surgery Simulator, an interactive, 3D simulation tool with information on cleft anatomy and surgical cleft repair techniques, designed to help train and accelerate learning for surgeons. The Simulator, which has been used in 141 countries, can be accessed for free at
  2. Internet-based, digital patient record database, Smile Train Express (STX) which contains more than one million unique treatment records.  It tracks patient outcomes to help ensure the safety and quality of Smile Train-supported treatments performed around the world.
  3. Free, interactive smartphone app for children with cleft palate speech problems, involving stories, games, and songs to improve their speech. This app lowers the burden on resource-poor families to travel for speech therapy, while the fun nature of the curriculum encourages children to practice more often. The app is currently available in English (“Smile Train Speech Games and Practice”) and Spanish (“Smile Train Habla y Lenguaje”). The app has more than 1,500+ active users in 15+ countries and has been downloaded more than 11,500 times.


Local Solutions, Global Impact
A study published in the British Medical Journal Global Health leveraged Smile Train data to analyze the long-term economic benefits of providing free cleft surgery to children in developing countries. It found that cleft repair, which can cost as little as $250, enhances individual earnings by up to $42,000 per patient. This, in aggregate, leads to a global economic boost of up to $20 billion. These findings reinforce the importance of investing in building strong surgical infrastructures and scalable healthcare solutions in promoting the economic health of communities around the globe. 

To date, Smile Train has provided support for more than 1.5 million cleft treatments for children in the developing world. While the impact Smile Train has had on elevating the standard of global cleft care has been significant, there is still much work to be done. The journey to living a healthy life for a child with a cleft starts with a smile, but that’s just the beginning. Over the next 20 years, Smile Train will expand our comprehensive care programs to secure a bright future for every child in need—because every child deserves to smile.

Tags: education, children
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