A new report has found that one in three children in Africa and South Asia is malnourished, and that number is higher for children with clefts in those regions.
The report was released by World Smile Day, Smile Train and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.
According to the report, the highest malnutrition rates tied to clefts were in Somalia, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan. Globally, nearly half of cleft-related malnutrition deaths in children under 5 could be prevented with access to adequate nutrition and surgical treatment.
The report provides a look at the devastating impact of orofacial clefts over two decades, 2000 to 2020. Clefts occur when certain body parts and structures do not fuse together during fetal development and can cause difficulties eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking. The report synthesized two sets of data, one from Smile Train Express and the other IHME’s Global Burden of Disease Modeling demographic group. After pairing and modifying the datasets for alignment, researchers used two meta-regression models to calculate results.
Key findings from the report include:
1. In Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East, for the period 2000-2022, it is estimated that almost half of malnutrition-related deaths in children with clefts could have been prevented with timely access to adequate cleft treatment and support.
2. If children with clefts did not experience higher rates of undernutrition, as many as 21,000 deaths worldwide could be averted with intervention.
3. Children with clefts in North Africa and the Middle East are more than twice as likely to be malnourished compared to all children.
4. In Africa, children with clefts are almost twice as likely to be malnourished compared to their peers without clefts.
5. Over the past 20 years, the number of children born with clefts under the age of 5 has failed to decline significantly.
6. Compared to underweight children, underweight children living with clefts endure a heavier burden of poor nutrition. They face a higher risk of undernutrition and other potentially life-threatening conditions.
7. Almost half of malnutrition-related deaths in children with clefts in Sub-Saharan Africa could be prevented with access to adequate cleft treatment and support
Further findings are available here and you can read the report here.