Smile Train arrives Nigeria!


In November 2007, on a cold November night we sat in an auditorium at UCL in London listening to the annual lecture of The Lancet. It was being delivered by Nigeria’s recently appointed Minister of Health; Professor Adenike Grange. For obvious reasons there was an over-representation of Nigerians in the audience. After the lecture I got talking to Remi Adeseun….we exchanged cards and actually did stay in touch. A few months later he wrote to say that he had just been appointed Regional Director for West Africa….for The Smile Train. …..and I thought we had lost Remi to toothpaste marketers…!

Since then I have learnt more about Remi’s work and Smile Train. I am humbled…you will be too. Read on…

Kabir was born with a bilateral cleft lip and this had a devastating impact on his appearance. Whenever his mother took him out in public, they were the subject of curious stares and ridicule. So, looking out for her son’s best interests, Kabir’s mother kept him hidden away at home.

In Nigeria, as in most developing countries, many people think clefts are an evil curse and a bad omen. Many babies born with clefts are immediately abandoned. The families are afraid that the cleft will end up ruining all of their lives. Kabir’s mother never considered abandoning her son, but at the same time she was very fearful for his future. Sitting together on the dirt floor of the small hut they call home, Kabir and his mother had no plan and no hope for the future. Until they heard about The Smile Train.

One day, a family friend told them about an amazing program at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria, Nigeria. It was sponsored by The Smile Train and was offering free cleft surgery to poor African children who could not afford it. Soon, Kabir and his mother were sitting face-to-face with Smile Train partner surgeon, Dr. Emmanuel A. Ameh who explained that little Kabir’s cleft could be fixed through surgery. In addition, since Kabir was only 7 months old, his cleft would be fixed before he developed any speech problems.
Suddenly, Kabir went from being a 7 month-old shut-in with no future to a very lucky little boy. His surgery went very well and the results are inspiring. Today, his mother takes him everywhere she goes and she will never forget how both of their futures were changed by a surgery that took less than an hour.

The Smile Train is the world’s leading cleft charity, dedicated to helping children born with cleft lip & palate.
Remi explained… “What makes Smile Train unique is the fact that all of the surgeries we fund are performed by local doctors in local hospitals. Through free training, equipment and financial grants, we help communities become self-sufficient.”

Unlike many charities that do many different things, The Smile Train is focused on solving a single problem:cleft lip and palate.

The first free cleft surgery in Nigeria under Smile Train was done in 2002 at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. Presently, the Smile Train is committed to massively scaling up its funding to cover up to 2500 free cleft surgeries in 2009 with a budget provision of up to about $1,000,000 or N120,000,000 for Nigeria.

The Smile Train strategy is to focus primarily on financing the direct surgical costs while reaching out to other men and women of goodwill to complement its efforts. This would mean supporting the publicity and outreach campaigns that will help bring the poor patients suffering from cleft lip/palate to any of the SmileTrain Partner Hospitals.

If you want to support the lives of these kids…

If you want to support the programme…

Or just to learn more and maybe refer a child…

Kindly visit for additional info, and contact Remi radeseun(AT)

Just like The Smile Train and Jimi Coker’s work with Johnson and Johnson higlighted in the previous blog…there are a lot of initiatives going on around the country to support the health and health care of our people. These extraordinary people are pushing the boundaries, walking the walk and giving hope to many. We will continue to highlight these on NHW whenever we are sure that lives of real people are being affected and the efforts are more than a 1-man NGO with only long reports of vague activities to show for it.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Unlike many charities that do many different things, The Smile Train is focused on solving a single problem:cleft lip and palate. Here is a charity that needs all the help possible. I wonder how many more are out there working away in obscurity. Any more like this would be helpful.

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