Ibadan, Nigeria — Global cleft charity Smile Train and Speech Pathologists and Audiologists Association in Nigeria (SPAAN) marked this year's International Month of Hearing and Speech expressing commitment to build capacity for professionals to provide better treatment and care. Speaking during a public lecture held online, Smile Train Program Manager for West Africa Ms. Victoria Awazie, noted that in efforts to build the capacity of speech therapists and pathologists, Smile Train and SPAAN joined forces to host TeleCleft Speech Online Sessions which ran from April 29 – May 27, 2020. The virtual lectures which were one- hour weekly educative sessions were delivered by highly experienced Smile Train Speech Care Providers and SPAAN Executives.

“As the surgical program activity was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it afforded an incredible innovative opportunity to leverage on telehealth platform to network, engage, educate, learn, and share experiences in palate speech management. The sessions hosted an average of 200 registered attendees from across Africa and the US. Smile Train invests in treatment of cleft as well as capacity building of the professionals to ensure that cleft lip and palate patients live a higher quality of life,” noted Victoria.

The online public lecture was graced by dignitaries including Dr. Samuel Ankeli, Special Adviser to President on Disability Matters Prof. Julius A. Ademokoya, President of SPAAN Dr. Olufunke Akanle, Registrar, Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board and moderated by Dr. Nina Capo-Chichi, Smile Train Program Manager in Benin.

On his part, Prof. Julius A. Ademokoya, President of SPAAN recognized the need to ensure accessibility of quality care for patients even as the COVID 19 pandemic persists. He called upon the leaders present to apply innovative strategies to access and treat patients with speech and hearing ailments.

“We are glad to have global organizations such as Smile Train investing in improving the expertise of our members. We therefore call upon our leaders to lobby for more investment in technology as well as become more innovative so that patients with speech and learning challenges are not left behind in the quest for Universal Health Coverage,” noted Prof. Ademokoya.

Smile Train continues to reach out to local communities, dispelling myths and misinformation that surround cleft. A cleft is a common birth difference that occurs when certain body parts and structures do not fuse together during fetal development. They can involve the lip and/or the roof of the mouth, which is made up of both the hard and soft palate. Causes of a cleft remain unknown but risk factors include environmental factors, lack of proper nutrition, as well as genetics. Many children with clefts around the world live in isolation, making it difficult to make friends and go to school, but more importantly, have difficulty eating, breathing, and speaking.

Smile Train has been actively supporting programs in Africa since 2002. In that time, the organization has developed local partnerships with more than 245 partner hospitals and 255+ medical partners in 38 countries throughout Africa to provide free cleft treatment. To date, Smile Train’s local medical partners have provided more than 113,000 life-changing cleft surgeries across Africa.