Smile Train, and Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) have urged healthcare professionals to conduct more research on cleft in East Africa.

Smile Train Program Director for East Africa Jane-Ngige Muturi urged for more collaboration among the various fields to get the attention of the policy makers to address cleft care in the region. She was speaking during the conclusion of a two-week training on Cleft Research Methodology which gathered cleft professionals from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. It was jointly facilitated by the KEMRI Graduate School of Health Sciences (KGSHS) and Smile Train.

“As we celebrate the closing of this initial phase of this training, for us this is just the beginning of not only growing and facilitating opportunities and collaborations in cleft-related research, but also in having our local partners lead in innovations for comprehensive cleft care. If we are to truly achieve Universal Health Coverage, we need to work together to ensure that persons abled differently are also provided with quality treatment. To better inform cleft care programs and advocate for inclusion in national health policies, it’s key to have evidence-based data.”

On his part, KEMRI Ag. Director General Prof. Samuel Kariuki urged Smile Train to continued sensitizing the healthcare professionals to tap into their experiences to create attention of the decision makers.

“We appreciate the value we have brought to the teams, and now we encourage the surgeons, nutritionists, social workers, anaesthetists to continuously use research to voice the needs of patients with neglected surgical conditions. We as KEMRI have broken down the concepts of research, enabling the healthcare professionals to apply them to their day-to-day engagement,” added Prof. Kariuki.

The training sought to address a great need for quality research works on cleft, a common but underreported facial birth difference in which patients experience difficulty in breathing, eating and speaking. Many of the children who grow up with an untreated cleft experience social stigma, live in shame and isolation, do not attend school and the ripple effect is that they fail to contribute to the economy. Causes of cleft remain unknown but risk factors include environmental factors, diet of the mother during pregnancy as well as genetics.

Smile Train has developed a Research and Innovation Advisory Council whose primary role is to provide advice on areas of research and innovation. Smile Train will be supporting the entire 10-week training and mentorship program with the aim of establishing a culture that supports the development of high-quality research and innovation activities to inform cleft care programs across Africa and the world at large. At the end of the course, participants are expected to have formulated a research problem, developed a good research question, and drafted a cleft-related proposal for funding consideration by Smile Train.

At the end of the training, 7 – 10 proposals will be selected for funding, with research leads receiving additional mentorship from KEMRI towards project implementation and manuscript writing.

KEMRI is ranked the top health research institution in Africa in terms of health research output, according to the authoritative global information analytics giant, Scimago Lab. Smile Train partners with local medical professionals, thus enhancing a sustainable model of care to provide free, safe and comprehensive cleft care ranging from surgery, nutrition, speech therapy orthodontics and ENT services.

Smile Train currently partners with more than 245 hospitals and over 255 local medical partners in 40 countries throughout Africa to provide free cleft surgeries and comprehensive cleft care all year round.