Every year, approximately 1 in 700 babies are born with a cleft lip and/or palate globally. This includes the UK however, we rarely see children with untreated clefts here because treatment is offered for free from the NHS and is typically carried out very soon after the child has been born.
In the developing world, where it is estimated that more than 200,000+new babies with cleftsare born every year globally, many children are not as fortunate. If left untreated, clefts can lead to serious health and survival issues for children, including their ability to eat, breathe, speak, and ultimately thrive.
At Smile Train, they work tirelessly to help solve this global issue by empowering local medical professionals in more than 85 countries around the globe,with training, funding, and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in need. Through this work, they have successfully changed the lives of more than one million children – by giving them their forever smiles.
Take the story of Neha Parmar from India as an example. Neha is a determined child who strives to be at the top of her class. Unfortunately, there were circumstances beyond her control that not only impacted her ability to thrive in school, but also made it difficult to survive past her very first day of life.
Neha was born to a poor family living in a one-room barsati (attic space) in a village near Hapur, India. Her parents were shocked to find out that their first child was born with cleft lip and also needed to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency surgery for her intestines. While the local doctors were able to surgically correct her intestines, the family was unable to afford the cost of a cleft lip surgery.
Neha’s years of living with an untreated cleft were not easy. She had difficulties eating, speaking, and making friends — she was ignored by her peers. Despite these difficulties, she worked hard in school and rarely missed a day.
Everything changed when her father moved to the city of Delhi to look for construction work where he was introduced to Smile Train partner hospital Sant Parmanand. Soon after, Neha received her cleft lip surgery at no cost to the family. Following her surgery, she also received Smile Train sponsored speech therapy.
Today, Neha helps take care of her siblings and has many friends who enjoy spending time with her. With her improved speech and confidence, she has risen to the very top of her class academically.
While Neha’s socioeconomic status, social isolation, and health problems might have put her at an initial disadvantage to the other children her age, her determination has paid off. With a little assistance from her caring family and Smile Train, she was able to shoot straight to the top of her class. With her strength of mind, she’ll be sure to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor, and one day be able to help other children just like her.
There are so many more children around the world who are living with untreated clefts, just like Neha. To learn more about the challenges they face, and the various ways that you can help, please visit: www.smiletrain.org.uk