Cleft Lip and PalateEach year, more than 200,000 children in developing countries are born with a cleft lip or palate. It is the leading birth defect in nearly all developing countries. A cleft lip or palate may lead to premature death due to its effect on a person’s ability to eat, speak and even breathe properly. Many of these children are unable to lead normal lives because they often face discrimination in terms of access to education and job opportunities later in life.

The good news is that it only takes 45 minutes to surgically fix a cleft lip or palate, and this simple fix lasts a lifetime.

A Life-Changing Partnership

On July 19, Smile Train, an international children’s charity, and GSK Consumer Healthcare, a world leader in oral health care, announced a 5-year partnership to bring free cleft lip and palate surgeries and care to children around the world. With GSK providing funding and scientific expertise and Smile Train continuing their legacy of life-changing free care, this partnership has the potential to assist the wellbeing of both individual children and their communities.

Smile Train works using a sustainable model of education, training in locations across the globe. Since their inception in 1999, the charity has been responsible for more than one million cleft lip and palate surgeries and has left stronger, more capable communities in their wake. Smile Train is dedicated to empowering local medical professionals to create change for those around them, such as the ability to provide a better life for a child in just 45 minutes. However, Smile Train’s care continues after this life-changing surgery by providing orthodontic care and, in many locations, speech therapy to assist in the transition.

While the surgery itself costs around $250 USD, Smile Train, and now GSK, pays the bill for all patients. The communities themselves also benefit through Smile Train and GSK’s partnership; the education and training Smile Train provides helps communities continue their progress in creating a healthier world, which benefits the economy as a whole.  Due to an increase in patients’ economic prospects, local communities may benefit up to $42,000 per individual who undergoes this surgery.

Local and Global Benefits

In addition to local benefits, there is a connection between basic surgeries such as cleft lip or palate surgery and an economic boost on a global scale. One study shows that Smile Train’s one million new smiles added roughly $3 billion USD to the global economy between 2001 and 2011.

By providing free surgeries to children with cleft lips and palates, Smile Train and GSK are providing opportunities for education, socialization, jobs and, most importantly, for a healthy life. In a study on the economic benefits of cleft lip and palate surgeries provided by Smile Train over the past 11 years in 84 developing countries, it was determined that cleft lip and palate surgical programs could contribute up to $20.7 billion USD. The study’s author, Daniel Scott Corlew, states that the “expansion of surgical capacity in the developing world is of significant economic and health value and should be a priority in global health efforts.”

A Better Future for Children

One patient has already seen the benefits of free cleft lip and palate surgery and care provided by the Smile Train and GSK Consumer Healthcare partnership. Eight-month-old Jaya, from Chennai, India, was the first child to undergo a GSK-funded surgery. Her first surgery was successful, and she has one final surgery scheduled within the next few months to completely correct her cleft lip and palate. Jaya is just one example of the lives these surgeries will change. 

This five-year partnership will enable Smile Train and GSK Consumer Healthcare to provide life-changing cleft lip and palate surgeries and care to children of the developing world, changing lives both locally and globally.

– Anna Lally
Photo: Flickr