Report from Rwanda: Doctors Needed

A member of our staff returned today from a trip to Rwanda, Africa, where she got to check in on our partners there and see first-hand the work they do. Here’s what she had to say:

“This part of Africa is beautiful: green hills everywhere — everything is green — goats, cows and chickens just wander by the dirt road.”

“Contrasting with this beautiful scenery is the crushing poverty. Every day kids ask us for pens; all they want are pens. They wear torn, dirty clothes and shoes. People here wear American castoffs.”

I saw my first cleft surgeries in person yesterday: a great experience. I finally got to see, in person, the result of the hard work everyone puts in at Smile Train. During rounds this morning the patients looked great. One man, a forty year-old former professional athlete, barely looked like he had lived with a cleft for forty years of life just the day before.

“The cleft backlog in Rwanda is huge: many of our patients this week were adults. At least 15 of the 37 surgeries performed this week were on patients over the age of 18.

“Also, 15 patients were transported to Gitwe last night from the Kigali Operation Smile mission. The Operation Smile team screened about 500 patients in two days. They have this incredible assembly line screening process that is great to watch. You cannot imagine what screening 500 patients in two days looks like. Every time I looked outside I kept thinking that the crowd would get smaller and smaller.”

“It never did.”

“There just aren’t enough doctors here to perform
the work required.”

Everywhere Smile Train goes there are different challenges but without a doubt the biggest obstacle in Africa is the lack of qualified doctors to perform surgeries.

A donation you make today can help us train a doctor, nurse or anesthesiologist in a place that desperately needs them.

Your contribution will help change the lives of millions of children and help ensure a child born with a cleft has the same opportunities as one born without.

Medical Exchange Program

Smile Train is dedicated to empowering local medical professionals by giving them as much access to resources and training as possible. One example is through Smile Train’s Medical Exchange Program – this program provides support to our local partners so they can invite specialists in cleft from around the world to provide one-on-one training in areas that they need most. These specialists can be surgeons, anesthesiologists, speech pathologists, audiologists, dentists or orthodontists, and Smile Train provides small travel stipends for these professionals to visit our partners and provide one-on-one training and assistance. One recent example of this program was written about in Audiology Online


BHARTI KATBAMNA: Yes. I am a professor at Western Michigan University. I have been at Western since 1995 and teach primarily in the area of diagnostic audiology. My clinical work also involves neurodiagnostics – I see predominantly pediatric patients from the normal nursery or the neonatal intensive care unit or from the hematology/ oncology clinics from hospitals in the greater Kalamazoo area.

In my case, it was my colleague, Donna Oas, a retired speech-language pathologist, with expertise is cleft palate and lip, who made all the initial inquiries. She came to me with this book and said that she would like to go to India to do some charity work with the cleft team – since India is an English speaking country, she thought it would be the place of choice. India is a very large country and I was not familiar with almost any of the hospitals listed in the book, so we narrowed it down by selecting programs in big cities. She sent emails to several programs – most programs responded, but the most enthusiastic response came from Dr. Partha Sadhu, the plastic surgeon from the J. Watumull Global Hospital and Research Center in Mount Abu, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan in India. As a Smile Train partner, Dr. Sadhu had hosted many visitors including ENTs and several speech-language pathologists from the U.K. and Sweden, so he was familiar with the process and that made everything very easy. Mt. Abu is a small hilltop community, but the hospital provides extensive services to the greater Rajasthan areas covering a 250-400 mile radius, serving people even from other states who must commute long distances to receive services in Mt. Abu.

So that is how the process began and I am not sure when in the process I seamlessly became Donna’s partner, but I did and it was fun to be a speech pathologist/audiologist team. It worked out beautifully and I am glad I went. It was a great opportunity to serve and learn; we saw 55 cases in a short span of seven days. They were very interesting cases – from cases that received repeat repairs due to poor repair work elsewhere, but handled skillfully by Dr. Sadhu, to new cases that received care from Dr. Sadhu from the beginning.

Read the full interview »

Uma: A different kind of patient

Here’s something a little different that’s just too cute not to share!

The president of our Argentinian partner, Rioja Foundation, Dr. Anibal Ojeda had a little dog named Uma who was born with a cleft lip.

After donating his time and effort to a surgery he wrote us to suggest (in jest) Smile Train change its motto to, “no child – or poodle – turned away.”

It’s so great to see a patient doing so well after a successful surgery!