Cleft: Organisation Pledges to Enhance Capacity of West African Surgeons


World’s largest cleft focused organization, Smile Train has committed to enhancing expertise of local cleft surgeons by investing in research and strengthening of surgical systems in the West African Region.
Research estimated that 1.7 billion children lack access to safe surgery while more children aged between five and 14 die every year from surgically treatable injuries than malaria, HIV and TB combined.
To strengthen surgical health systems, Smile Train is advocating for governments to prioritize their National Surgical, Obstetrics and Anaesthesia Plans, and is currently involved with the implementation of the NSOANP in Nigeria.
Speaking during the 63rd Annual Scientific Conference of the West African College of Surgeons in Lome, Togo, Smile Train President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Susannah Schaefer noted that to achieve Universal Health Coverage, there is need for collaborations between Governments, NGOs and the surgeons. The Conference themed ‘Surgical Training and Education in West Africa’ brought together surgeons from across the region to discuss latest developments in surgical care and training.
“NGOs and civil society, especially those NGOs who work directly with medical professionals and within health systems, have and must continue to raise the voices of our partners and the populations we serve when it comes to advocating for and supporting the development of policies,” she said.
In 2019, Smile Train and WACS partnered to develop the Smile Train- WACS Cleft Surgical Certification, a one-year course that aimed at enhancing the number and quality of cleft surgeons across West Africa. During the conference, the second cohort of surgeons graduated enabling them to commence cleft programs in their respective countries. The organization also unveiled an endowment fund of $10,000 for the Smile Train Best Cleft Surgery Scholar of the Year (Post-Fellowship). Smile Train aims to institutionalize this award to recognize, motivate and stimulate academic excellence.
“Dr. Robert from Ghana, and Drs. Adebayo, Adeola, Oti, Yakubu and Yusuf from Nigeria are the second cohort of scholars selected to receive scholarships to specialize in cleft surgery. Now that they have completed their Post-Fellowship Cleft Certification, they will initiate cleft surgical programs in their home countries. The collaboration between Smile Train and WACS that has supported these Fellows is happening in a time of unprecedented global prioritization and investment in safe surgery and anesthesia care,” added Dr. Schaefer.
During the event, Dr. Schaefer was also feted as an Honorary Fellow of WACS. While receiving the Award, she said: “I express my sincerest gratitude to the WACS fraternity for the honor you have bestowed upon me as a WACS Honorary Fellow. It is a jewel signifying our endless quest together in ensuring the most vulnerable patients with clefts have a reason to smile and thrive.”
While extending her congratulatory remarks, Smile Train Vice-President and Regional Director for Africa Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi said, “The conferment of the honorary fellowship on Dr. Schaefer is a testament and recognition of the significant investment and sustainable impact Smile Train has made in developing and strengthening surgical resources, elevating comprehensive cleft care expertise within local communities and across sub-Saharan Africa.”
Smile Train has active cleft care programs in 42 countries across Africa with more than 245 partners and over 255 partner hospitals across the continent


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