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Half Of Malnutrition-Related Deaths In Those With Clefts Preventable With Access To Adequate Treatment, Support – Report 

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By Sunday Elom

Report of a research by the world’s largest cleft-focused organization, Smile Train and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine has revealed that with access to adequate treatment and support, half of cleft-related malnutrition deaths in children under 5 years globally could be prevented.

The report titled “A Generation Lost: The Devastating Effect of Malnutrition on Children with Clefts” which was published on October 7th to mark the 2022 World Smile Day revealed that if children with clefts did not experience higher rates of undernutrition, not fewer than 21,000 deaths worldwide could be prevent with adequate intervention. 

The report which evaluated the the devastating impact of it described as orofacial clefts over between the year 2000 and 2020 revealed that over the past 20 years under review, the number of children born with clefts under the age of 5 failed to decline significantly, adding that deaths in children with clefts as well as malnutrition-related deaths in those with clefts declined since 2000, but the supposed progress has been markedly slower and lagged behind the declines in malnutrition-related mortality and child mortality overall in the same time period.

The report further found out that in 2020, the highest cleft prevalence rates were observed in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East and extended into Central Asia and South Asia. 

“In 2020, nearly 600,000 children younger than 5 years were living with clefts, and of those, 200,000 were underweight. The highest cleft prevalence rates were in countries in North Africa and the Middle East, extending into Central Asia and South Asia. 

“Cleft prevalence rates were lower in sub-Saharan Africa, with about 1 in 1,000 children having a cleft in those countries. However, sub-Saharan Africa (from Sahel to the Horn of Africa) and South Asia had the highest rates of underweight conditions, increasing the vulnerability of those with clefts to malnutrition,” the report stated.

It also revealed that for every 1,000 live births globally, 1.41 babies are born with orofacial clefts while almost 195,000 babies are born with clefts annually. 

According to the report, currently, 4.62 million persons are living with an unrepaired or inadequately repaired cleft, making them susceptible to a number of potentially life-threatening conditions and increasing their risk of malnutrition. 

Commenting on the finding of the research, a lead author of the study and an associate professor at the IHME, Nicholas Kassebaum, said that “By combining the forces of Smile Train’s more than 1.5 million surgical records in the Smile Train Express database, including a wealth of nutrition data, and IHME’s comprehensive set of health estimates, we now know more about clefts than ever before.” 

Kassebaum added, “We hope that this is a call to action for global health leaders to take further action against undernutrition in children with clefts.”

Also, President and Chief RExecutive Officer (CEO) of Smile Train, Susannah Schaefer, said that “Clefts are not a cosmetic issue, and this data serves as both a warning and a roadmap,” adding that “It (the report) shows us at Smile Train that we are on the right track with expanding our nutrition programs, but that we need to do more. 

“When the scale of an issue is this large, and when lives are at stake, you have to act and you have to act together. Smile Train is proud to have made a 5-year commitment to scale investment in nutrition, but we need to call on governments and other organizations to do the same.”

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