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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – June 2, 2003: The Smile Train - 2003-06-01

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Millions of children around the world suffer from an easily corrected medical condition called cleft lip. A cleft is a separation in the lip of the mouth. Children can also suffer from cleft palate. That is a separation in the top of the mouth or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth.

Cleft lip or palate normally develops in the early weeks of pregnancy. Asian children are among those in which the condition is seen most often. Males have the condition more often than females. Researchers believe that genetic material passed on to children from their parents may cause cleft lip or palate. Environmental things like drugs, sickness, smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy may also cause the condition.

A simple operation often performed between the first nine and eighteen months of life can repair this condition. Doctors say that without it, children in developing countries are more likely to suffer a life of poor nutrition, condemnation and separation from their communities.

The Smile Train is among the groups at work to end this problem. This non-governmental organization is based in the United States. It provides local doctors in developing countries with training and equipment needed to perform cleft operations.

In Pakistan, for example, The Smile Train has given Allied Hospital at the Punjab Medical College gifts of money, equipment and training. The aid will help Pakistan reduce its cleft lip and palate population – which the group says may be the fourth highest in the world.

The organization has also provided equipment and training to Malaysia’s medical community. The Smile Train says over one-thousand children are born with a cleft condition each year in Malaysia. And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, The Smile Train has given the University Clinic Center in Sarajevo aid to improve its cleft care for poor children. The Smile Train provides services and programs in more than fifty countries.

The organization was started in nineteen-ninety-nine. Every year since then, it has provided free cleft operations to more than thirty-five-thousand children around the world. Local doctors do the operations which take as little as forty-five-minutes. The Smile Train pays for the operations with money it collects. It says the average cost is about two-hundred-fifty dollars.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.