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Highest number of cleft lip surgeries have been performed in UP, says Schaefer
Anjali Marar | Monday, 19 December 2016 AT 12:27 PM IST
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Expertise and knowledge of English give Indian plastic surgeons a better chance to work for the society. Susannah Schaefer, CEO of Smile Train, spoke to Anjali Marar about the organisation’s plans in India.

Can you brief us about your work in India?
We began our work in India in 2000 and, at that time, our challenge was the level of awareness about cleft lips. But since then, there has been marked improvement and the reach has been far better. Our initial efforts were to unite plastic surgeons and related medical experts in this field so that they could be onboard to offer free surgeries to the needy children. From being associated with one hospital in 2000, we now work with 168 hospitals across the country. 300 of our 2,200 expert surgeons in our team are Indians. So far, the highest number of free surgeries for cleft have been performed in Uttar Pradesh (UP), which stands at 1.28 lakh followed by Maharashtra - 39,000, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu - 30,000 each.

What are the major challenges involved in reaching out to children born with cleft or other facial defects?
Children born with cleft often lead a life of isolation and have to bear with social stigma. The families also are unable to help the child cope with this deformity and very few seek medical help. So, apart from offering free surgeries, we are also actively involved in improving the awareness about the availability of treatments and the assurance of complete recovery from this deformed condition. Another challenge is patients mobility to our centres or hospitals, especially for children residing in remote areas of the country.

How have Indians supported your cause?
Indian doctors have always been an integral part of our works globally. They have an edge over experts belonging to other nationalities mainly due to two reasons - expertise and knowledge of English. That is why, they have been on the training panel for doctors from the US, several European and African countries. The skill possessed among doctors here is of a very high standard as they have been handling cases of this medical condition for several decades now.

How can any hospital be a part of your mission? Do you work with both government and private hospitals?
There is an expert medical committee, which handles the hospital applications and this body is responsible for scrutinising the infrastructure, human resource strengths, security and other mandatory aspects laid down by Smile Train foundation. We work with any hospital provided it meets our requirements. At present, private hospitals top our list, followed by institution-run hospitals and about 10 per cent hospitals are government-funded ones.

What are the organisation’s future goals?
Our efforts are towards creating a network of experts, hospitals and needy persons in order to continue the reach out for treating cleft. It will be designed in a manner to engage more volunteers in a sustainable manner for which we are also encouraging organisations and corporations to come forward for this cause. We are trying to tie up with local organisations in India too. Since patient mobilisation is one of our key problems, we also hope automobile companies to share its services in helping patients reach our facilities.

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