A cleft lip and/or palate is the most common facial birth defect in the UK, affecting around 1 in every 700 babies according to the NHS. However, most Cleft Conditions are repaired during early childhood in the UK due to greater access of surgical intervention and high-quality medical care provided by the NHS.

It is unlikely you’ll see anyone with an unrepaired cleft condition in the UK. For many of the patients we serve, this same access to care is oftentimes non-existent in the low- and middle-income countries where they live.

Many risk factors can increase the likelihood of cleft lip and cleft palate. Though all causes have yet to be identified, we know that genetics, pre-existing medical conditions, poor nutrition and exposure to harmful environmental substances can affect the healthy development of a baby.

Operation Smile conducts hundreds of medical programmes in locations around the world. Every one of those locations is unique.

Sometimes we have to import medical equipment and/or import medical expertise which can make providing free surgeries more costly. 

We work with local medical professionals, governments, hospitals and other NGOs to create various models of surgical care. Together, we determine which solutions work best in order to reach as many children as possible wherever we work.

We have the same goal: improve how surgical care is delivered while empowering local communities. As a result of these efforts, Operation Smile’s surgeries are performed by local medical professionals at a greatly reduced cost.

As little as £150 helps provide surgery to a child with a cleft condition. This is possible thanks to the generous contributions of medical professionals who volunteer their time, as well as corporations that donate critical supplies and equipment necessary for safe surgery. This cost includes expenses incurred for essential medical team members to be at a medical programme, the expenses for additional required supplies and shipping cargo costs.

Not every country or community around the world is the same. That’s why we work with local medical professionals, governments, hospitals and other NGOs to create various models of surgical care. Together, we determine which solutions work best in order to reach as many children as possible wherever we work. And we’re going to keep doing this and refining our approach as we move forward. All with the goal to give the most effective surgical care to patients worldwide.

First and foremost, we bring the highest quality of care to every child, every time. We were the first cleft organisation to support the World Health Organisation’s Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative. Our Global Standards of Care is our commitment to ensuring that every patient cared for by Operation Smile will benefit from the same sophisticated equipment, procedures and highly trained, credentialed medical professionals, no matter where they receive treatment.

A cleft is a gap in the mouth that didn’t close during the early stages of pregnancy. As a result, children born with a cleft condition may have an opening in the lip or the roof of their mouth – or both. Children can have a unilateral cleft condition, meaning one side of their mouth is affected, or they can have a bilateral cleft condition where both sides of the mouth are affected.

Depending on the type and severity, a cleft condition can create severe health issues for a child if it’s not treated. It’s common for babies to have difficulty with feeding, which can lead to malnutrition or even starvation. Recurring ear infections can occur, which can lead to hearing loss. Jaw and dental development can also be affected.

For people with cleft conditions, especially those with cleft palate, speech and language development can also be hindered. Children may also suffer from bullying and social isolation.

Cleft surgery is vital to ensuring a child will live a happier and healthier life. But it acts as only a single step along the path of a patient’s journey toward healing. This is why the comprehensive care we provide patients after surgery is essential for the people we serve. We do this at our care centres in countries like Morocco, Colombia and India.

Cleft conditions can, sadly, cause significant health issues and even death. Cleft can cause problems with nursing and feeding, resulting in infants experiencing severe forms of malnourishment. Some babies born with cleft conditions require special feeding plates or bottles to be able to eat and grow. As children age, cleft conditions can cause frequent infections, which can lead to hearing impairment.

We strive to help children born with cleft conditions get the nutrition they need by providing tools, like feeding plates and special bottles, as well as nutrition itself, through ready-to-use therapeutic food. Our work helps children avoid or recover from malnutrition and become healthy enough for a safe surgery.

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If you need any further help, our Supporter Care Team is here to answer your questions.