Show Those Smiles

Helping children put a smile on their faces, medical volunteers from across South Africa are performing life-changing surgery for kids in Mpumalanga born with cleft lip and cleft palates.

It is estimated that a child is born somewhere in the world with a cleft every three minutes — making it the third most common birth defect. And corrective surgery should ideally be carried out within the first 18 months of life. Sadly in many parts of South Africa the public health system is over-burdened and under-resourced. Safe surgery is not always freely available or accessible, and a child may have to wait years for the chance to live a normal life. Without surgery, children with clefts face serious and debilitating long-term health problems and will likely suffer from emotional abuse and isolation.


Operation Smile South Africa, in partnership with the Mpumalanga Department of Health and supported by MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, are bringing together a team of medical volunteers from across South Africa to transform the lives of 35 children with cleft lip and cleft palate, during a three-day surgical program at Rob Ferreira Hospital, Mbombela.

Sarah Scarth, the Executive Director of Operation Smile South Africa, explains that the longer a child born with a cleft must wait for surgery, the more serious their health, developmental and psychological problems will likely be.  The good news is that cleft conditions can be surgically repaired in as little as 45 minutes by a specialist medical team.


“We believe everyone born with a cleft deserves access to safe surgery and comprehensive care. We are committed to reducing cleft surgical waiting times and are very pleased to be working with the Mpumalanga Department of Health and Rob Ferreira Hospital to provide high-quality cleft care at no cost to those in the province and surrounding areas,” says Scarth. 


The Operation Smile’s team of volunteers, comprised of specialist plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaesthetists, paediatricians, nurses, dentists, speech therapists and psychosocial professional will travel to Mpumalanga from across the country to team up with medical staff at Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mbombela.   In addition to the surgical intervention, the weekend program will provide an opportunity for education and training of local medical professionals and surgical registrars.

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