GUWAHATI, Sept 19 � The Smile Train Project under which children with cleft lip and cleft palate are operated free of cost, has set a target of curing at least 50,000 children in the country a year. Assam and other parts of the North-east will also figure prominently in its scheme of things.
This was revealed by Satish Kalra, South Asia regional director, Smile Train, while talking to The Assam Tribune.
Kalra who was in the city in connection with the project's ongoing activities in the region said that the Smile Train Project had been covering the North-east since the past ten years, and would focus more in the region in the coming days.
"We have partnerships with hospitals for identifying and reaching out to the affected children. In Guwahati our partner hospitals are the Down Town Hospital and the Institute of Women and Child Care run by the Dr Kuntal Goswami Memorial Trust. Another partner hospital is in Dibrugarh," Kalra said.
Smile Train has one partner hospital each in Shillong (Meghalaya), Imphal (Manipur), Aizawl (Mizoram), Agartala (Tripura), Kohima (Nagaland) and Naharlagun (Arunachal Pradesh). All over the country, it is networking with 170 hospitals.
Kalra said that the partner hospitals regularly hold awareness campaigns in different areas, especially the interior and backward places, so that any child with the disorder could be detected and operated upon.
"Most of our clients suffering from cleft lip or cleft palate are from economically weak background but this does not mean that the disorder afflicts only the poor. The fact is that the poor either remain ignorant of the treatment or do not have access to the required clinical intervention due to financial constraints," Kalra said.
Terming the disorder as a medical mystery, Kalra said that the cause behind cleft lip or cleft palate - which develops inside the womb during the seventh week of pregnancy -- was yet to be established.
"Malnutrition is not a factor, and a person born in Bihar or Assam will have an equal probability of being afflicted with the disorder that occurs in one in every 700 children born. But the good thing is that it can be corrected with a surgical procedure, and we are doing it for free," he said.
Kalra said that in India some 35,000 children are born every year with the deformity. "There is obviously a huge backlog but we are determined to bring it to zero soon, as we will be performing over 50,000 operations every year," he added.
Training of local doctors in the surgical procedure is a major component of Smile Train's strategy to combat the menace. �As part of our efforts to eliminate the disorder, we help the hospitals to improve their infrastructure and train up the surgeons.�
Kalra was critical of the trend of foreign doctors visiting India for offering medical solutions to the needy.
"This has many drawbacks, the foremost being that doctors from outside having little experience in say cleft-lip surgery often use the occasion more as a 'practice' to hone their skills than to 'treat.' This results in sub-standard operations, causing serious damage to the children. We have had dozens of such cases in the recent past. Then, there is the difficulty in the matter of post-operative medical care as the doctor who had performed the operation will no longer be there," he said, adding that the cost involved (like air fares, accommodation, etc., of the foreign doctors) in such exercises was also huge.
Kalra also questioned whether the visiting doctors from abroad maintained the Medical Council of India (MCI) norms. �Training up local doctors is a much easier, patient-friendly and cost-effective way of treatment. It also helps upgrade our medical infrastructure and expertise,� Kalra asserted.
Kalra said that the media could play a great role in spreading the message of Smile Train. �While cleft lip or cleft palate cannot be prevented.