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Include palate examination in newborn healthcare guidelines, government told

 Destiny, one of the beneficiaries in Africa who received free cleft treatment courtesy of Smile Train. [Courtesy, Smile Train]

The government has been urged to develop or revise newborn healthcare guidelines to include palate examination to ensure appropriate support with nutritional and surgical referral.

In a report released by Smile Train, the government has been asked to develop national guidelines for cleft care training and optimal cleft treatment pathways and ensure cleft care training for maternal and newborn care providers is aligned.

Released on May 23, 2024, ahead of Global Surgery Day and the 77th World Health Assembly, the report, titled ‘Smile Train at 25: $69 Billion in Impact’, features new data measuring the economic impact and value that comes with 25 years of transforming cleft care.

According to the report, although it is essential to invest in healthcare workers, when it comes to increasing access to cleft surgery and cleft care, one of the largest hurdles is a widespread shortage of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other critical cleft care providers.

Over 10,958 Kenyans have benefited from Smile Train-supported cleft surgeries in the last 25 years, a report has shown.

The report released by the firm indicates that these surgeries have had a Sh31.164 billion impact on the economy.

Kenya is among 80 countries globally where a total of 1,486,131 primary surgeries supported by Smile Train have been done between 2001 and 2023.

The surgeries according to the report have resulted in 12, 868,842 years lost to disability averted with an economic impact of $69.4 billion globally.

The report said supporting comprehensive cleft care confers significant value for countries around the world and governments should thus engage civil society organizations, development partners, and the private sector to invest in surgical and anesthesia care as part of national health priorities, including the training and education of the surgical health workforce and the development, funding, and implementation of national surgical, obstetric, anesthesia, and nursing plans to prioritize surgical care within national health and development priorities.

“Governments should invest in the distribution and ongoing maintenance of critical patient monitoring equipment, including pulse oximetry and capnography and put protocols in place for reporting cleft cases and ensure referrals to cleft care teams/ treatment centers,” read part of the recommendation.

The report further said Kenya should establish and maintain population-based registries for reporting and counting clefts and make the data available for research, health promotion, and health systems improvement, and to help determine resource allocation.

“Governments should educate communities about clefts, in collaboration with trusted community leaders, to combat the stigma and social exclusion of children with clefts and their families, build social protection programs to support mothers of children with clefts, who are more likely to be socially excluded and need counseling, guidance, social transfers, cash, vouchers, and food to support their livelihoods,” said the report.

The country through the Health Ministry has been urged to develop or revise national nutrition guidelines to consider the needs of all infants and young children and highlight adaptations to address the needs of the most vulnerable, including children with clefts.

Susannah Schaefer, President and CEO of Smile Train said over the 25 years, the firm had seen the impact of supporting timely, affordable, high-quality surgical care for those who need it most.

We’ve seen families restored, children return to school, build friendships, and speak with confidence for the first time. We’ve seen new futures and all the extraordinary ways that cleft care can change lives,” said Schaefer.

She said the latest data quantifies that reality, unequivocally demonstrating that surgical care is a sound investment and a cost-effective intervention that yields substantial economic returns for individuals for nations, and for the global economy.

Schaefer said $69 billion put back into local economies around the world is no small feat, and these incredibly impactful numbers are all thanks to the dedicated efforts of the worldwide team who understand and prioritise their sustainable and local model of supporting surgery and other forms of essential cleft care.

“It’s time that the international medical community follows suit and recognizes the cost-effectiveness of integrating comprehensive cleft care into their health systems to provide every child with a cleft in need the access to the care they deserve and the future they can achieve for themselves, their families, and their communities,” she said.

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