Home OFFICIAL PARTNER COLUMNISTS Smile Train: Addressing malnutrition to help nourish smiles

Smile Train: Addressing malnutrition to help nourish smiles

GLOBALLY, an estimated 200,000 children are born each year with a cleft. Many of these children’s families do not have the resources to help them.

Smile Train empowers local medical professionals in 85+ countries to provide free cleft treatment for children in need. Sadly, in many of the countries where Smile Train has active programmes, malnutrition is also a persistent public health issue. Malnutrition leads to growth stunting and can have lifelong negative physical, physiological, and psychological impacts.

Unfortunately, malnutrition is also a key problem faced by children with untreated clefts. Often, children with untreated clefts have difficulties eating and swallowing due to their facial difference.  Before surgical repair, the split in their lip or mouth may affect the normal action of sucking that is vital for feeding. Even after surgery, post-surgical complications may make feeding a baby with a cleft challenging. As a result, children with clefts frequently require specialized nutritional support before they are physically able to receive cleft surgery as well as after surgery to ensure the best possible opportunity for successful rehabilitation.

In response to this global health issue, Smile Train established a Nutrition Grants programme that supports malnourished children before and, in certain cases, after cleft surgery takes place. This ensures that these children are strong enough to safely and successfully undergo treatment.

Through this programme, families are shown how to properly feed their child and adhere to sanitisation guidelines. We also work with hand in hand with hospitals and social workers in local communities, to increase awareness and ensure that families are empowered with the right information to keep their child healthy.

To mark the upcoming Malnutrition Awareness Week – which is taking place from 24th – 28th September – and to highlight the life-changing impact that our Nutrition Grants programme can have, we wanted to share the story of baby Isaac from Kenya.

Baby Isaac was born in the Maasai Mara with a cleft lip and a cleft palate. Because of his clefts, he was unable to eat properly, which led him to be malnourished.

When our local partners met Isaac at just three months old, he weighed only 2.4 kilos. The fontanelle on his head was depressed, indicating dehydration. He was very small and very weak.

Isaac’s mum did not have enough breast milk to feed him. His family had recently gone to a local health clinic on the Maasai Mara and were given a can of infant formula, however, they did not have enough money for fuel to boil the water needed for the formula.

After that formula eventually ran out, his mother had even less milk and his family could not afford to buy another can. When Isaac was given milk, he was ravenous. Not a single drop fell from his mouth. You could see he was starving.

Thankfully, Isaac was able to be helped through our Nutrition Grants programme. Now that he has received the proper nutritional support and care he needed, Isaac is on the road to recovery – and when he is strong enough he will undergo life-changing cleft repair surgery.