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U.S. Group Expands Free Help in China for Children With Clefts

I’m Jim Tedder with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Cleft lip is a medical condition that can be easily corrected. The cleft is a separation in the lip of the mouth. Cleft palate is a separation in the top of the mouth or the soft tissue at the back.

Clefts usually develop in the early weeks of pregnancy. Males have the condition more often than females. And it is more common in some groups, including Asian and Latin American children.

Researchers believe the condition involves genetic and environmental causes. Things like sickness, smoking or drug use, including alcohol use, during pregnancy may increase the risk.

A simple operation can repair the problem. Doctors say that without treatment, children in developing nations are more likely to suffer a life of poor nutrition and social rejection.

The Smile Train is an organization based in the United States. It provides local doctors in developing countries with training and equipment to perform cleft operations. The Smile Train has established programs in more than fifty countries.

Last month, it announced plans to expand its program in China. The group currently works with one hundred thirty-five hospitals there. It plans to double that number over the next eighteen months. Former President George H.W. Bush is one of the supporters of the group. He was at the announcement in Beijing.

The Smile Train began in nineteen ninety-nine. Each year it provides free cleft operations to more than one hundred forty-five thousand children around the world. Local doctors do the operations, which take as little as forty-five minutes.

The Smile Train says the operations cost an average of about two hundred fifty dollars to perform. The group collects money through gifts to pay for them. A spokeswoman says one hundred percent of all the money given is used to help children. She says supporters pay the program costs.

Internet users can learn more details at smiletrain-dot-o-r-g.

The Web site lists a new telephone number for poor Chinese families to call to sign up for a free cleft operation. The group says it guarantees that every poor child in China who needs cleft surgery can receive it for free at one of the hospitals in the program.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Our reports can be found online at I’m Jim Tedder.