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We Must Collaborate To Advance Cleft Care, Restore Lost Smiles In Francophone Africa –  Smile Train

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By Sunday Elom

A world’s largest cleft care organization, Smile Train, has called for more collaboration with the governments and other nongovernmental organizations to advance and accelerate quality cleft care in Francophone countries across Africa.

Susannah Schaefer, Smile Train President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) made the call on Monday September 5 this year during the inaugural three-day Francophone Cleft Congress held in Rabat, Morocco, pointing out that it has become more imperative to restore lost smiles on the faces of cleft Francophone Africans.

Schaefer lamented how lack of access to safe and timely cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care affected many patients in underserved communities, and therefore called on the attendees of the conference to leverage the conference as an opportunity to share knowledge and identify ways to advance quality cleft care in their local communities.

Schaefer noted that “Across Africa, we are seeing a greater demand for innovation, and empirical data continues to inform our programs. We are always seeking opportunities for collaboration with governments, institutions, and partners to invest in surgical care, capacity building, and research.”

“I encourage us to continue to use our influence to build sustainable Comprehensive Cleft Care that will meet our patients’ needs and help them fulfill their potential,” she added. 

Responding to Smile Train call for collaboration, the Minister for Health and Social Protection, Kingdom of Morocco, Mr. Khalid Ait Taleb, who attended the conference said, “We welcome collaborations with Smile Train and development partners who are invested in ensuring that children receive free, safe and quality surgical care.”

Also speaking, the Chairman of Smile Train’s Global Medical Advisory Board, Dr. Larry Hollier, who officiated the event, underscored the return on investment in providing safer cleft surgery, and called for more innovation and research to advance the standards of surgical service delivery reaching the vulnerable groups.

Dr. Hollier said, “Francophone Africa is a diverse multicultural territory with a population of over 264 million people spread across 23 French-speaking countries. There hasn’t been much attention in a regional approach to cleft care significantly due primarily to the language barrier.

“We also noted that for every $250 spent on treating one patient with cleft, it ploughed back as much as $50,000 to the economy. This gives us greater conviction in the investment in safe and timely cleft surgery.” 

Smile Train explained that approximately 13,150 babies are born with cleft annually in the Francophone African countries. Interestingly, the organization has successfully treated over 31,000 cases of clefts but emphasized that there is still a huge backlog of patients with unrepaired clefts. 

Smile Train reiterated its commitment to continue to invest in research, noting that it is achieving that through in-person workshops, online sessions and mentorship leading in the creation of cleft related research work to inform policy in the region.

The organization also revealed that it has made strategic investments in education and training including collaborating with Scottish Charity KidsOR, 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. 

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