Smile Train Spreads 600,000 Smiles in India, Aims of a Cleft Free India

On spreading more than half-million smiles in India, Mamta Carroll, Vice President and Regional Director, Asia, Smile Train in conversation with BW BUSINESSWORLD shares the journey of Smile Train India, challenges faced by the organisation, and essence of the partnership with FOGSI.

Early intervention and diagnosis in Cleft care

On September 9, Smile Train India, the world’s largest cleft charity announced the milestone of supporting 600,000 cleft surgeries in India. Smile Train is a global non-profit and is working in more than 90 countries around the globe. The organisation has completed 19 years in India.   

Smile Train India has also partnered with the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) which will help in early detection and early intervention of clefts. Further, the strong foothold of FOGSI will also improve the reach of Smile Train India to smaller towns and villages.  

On spreading more than half-million smiles in India, Mamta Carroll, Vice President and Regional Director, Asia, Smile Train in conversation with BW BUSINESSWORLD shares the journey of Smile Train India, challenges faced by the organisation, and essence of the partnership with FOGSI.   

Here are the excerpts:    

  1. From starting 19 years back to completing 6 Lakh surgeries, how was the Smile Train’s journey in India?  

When we started in India almost 19 years ago, it was a plain ground for us. We didn’t know where to start. We had no idea what to do next. So, it was a very humongous task in front of us and one by one we started partnering with hospitals and partnering with local doctors. And therefore, we are truly grateful to our local doctors which helped us to achieve this feat.    

  1. How big is your network of doctors and operations?  

We work with almost 200 plus doctors today. Among them, there is a mix of surgeons, clefts surgeons, anaesthesiologists, paediatricians. And the entire cleft teams now. We have joined this mission of the smile train to provide complete cleft care at completely free of cost for poor children born with this condition. 

  1. What is the model behind the success of Completing 6,00,000 Surgeries? 

One appreciable thing about the whole program is that the entire model is based on sustainability. We thrive on ‘teach a man to fish model’ model. We are not an organization who would get in medical help from foreign countries, who perform surgeries here and then go back. We only work with local communities and doctors providing them not only the funding and the resources, but we also empower them with training and other things. 

We train the entire cleft teams to provide this complete care to patients free of charge. The aim was to be able to train more surgeons and so by starting 19 years ago, we were able to use a model that could deal with the backlog of patients and now take that fast forward to today where we are now celebrating that we have operated on 600,000 children in India. 

We have strengthened the health systems here. We have empowered local medical professionals. We have built a holistic approach to treat cleft and this is the model that we are now using around the world.  

  1. What were the challenges you faced in this 19-year long journey?  

In 2000, there was a clear lack of surgeons, there weren’t enough specific cleft plastic surgeons. So, to be able to treat cleft in the model that we set out- which is a sustainable model to teach to treat cleft which is to train local surgeons to build capacity and country to provide local surgeons, medical professionals.  

  1. How your partnership with will help your future endeavours in India?  

The partnership with FOGSI is very special for both of us. It’s a win-win situation for both organizations. Our partnership with Dr Nandita will power the second leg of our journey in India. We have completed 600,000 surgeries. But today with FOGSI, we are focusing on our aim of completing 600,000 surgeries in India.   

Further, FOGSI will help in early detection and intervention of cleft cases as FOGSI’s network of gynaecologist will help to detect cleft during the embryonic stage and hence an early intervention can take place.   

  1. How do you provide psychological help and emotional help to the children born with a cleft and their families?  

Social workers are also involved in our campaign. They help to educate the communities and locating the children, but they also get very much involved in working with the families and guiding the families through the cleft journey.   

The news of surgery poses psychological effects to the child and their family and that’s where our social worker comes into play. They support the child as well as making the family comfortable throughout the surgery. In addition to social workers, some of our hospitals have psychologists on board to counsel the families.  

  1. How technology has helped Smile Train in its mission?  

Technology is in our DNA and is a big part of what Smile Train is. Our founder was an entrepreneurial technologist, and hence we use technology through all that we do. We even have a virtual surgery simulator for performing remote surgeries. A virtual surgery simulator is a training tool that has different modules; different approaches to learning and these are built with the help of world-renowned plastic surgeons. There are tutorials in there and we have trained more than 10 thousand doctors with its help.  

We also have the world’s largest clubbed cleft database ‘Smile Train Express’ which has records of all cleft surgeries done along with before and after surgery photographs. With the click of a button, I can tell you what’s happening in for example in J&K or at Trichur or at Surat. Every surgery is uploaded to our system and it performs all the quality checks.   

Further, we’re just a staff of nine people managing such a humongous program and that is just possible because we are leveraging on technology which even helps us to save up the costs of huge offices.   

  1. What would be the way ahead for both Smile Train and FOGSI? 

The partnership will help in reaching out to a greater number of doctors. We are reaching out to all the gynaecologists. They are going to share their experience of twenty years with people who need to know. Jointly, we are building resources, setting up protocols and eventually reaching out to more people. Further, this partnership might open more sectors and helping us to reach to more cities.  


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