Cleft lip and/or palate (CLP) is among the world’s most common congenital anomalies, affecting an estimated 1 in 700 live births. CLP can lead to a wide range of health problems, including feeding difficulties that contribute to malnutrition, oral health challenges, delays in speech and language development, and long-term emotional and physical health issues. Receiving timely high-quality cleft surgical and anesthesia care, in addition to a range of interdisciplinary health services, is critical to the health and development of children impacted by CLP.
Too often, however, whether a baby receives this essential treatment is dependent upon the city, country, or region in which they are born. The global burden of surgical disease is a significant and long-neglected area within global health that disproportionately affects low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) compared to high-income countries (HICs). The estimated 1.7 billion children who live without access to surgical care around the globe, including many with CLP, live with a greater risk of life-long disability and a higher risk of mortality.
Barriers to surgical care in LMICs include a lack of trained health-care providers, inadequate infrastructure, high out-of-pocket costs, and lack of political prioritization. Historically, short-term missions have sought to address the burden of surgical conditions such as CLP, but this short-term, siloed approach fails to address – and in many cases has only perpetuated – the systemic causes of global surgical inequity, which cuts across sectors, disciplines, and borders. As momentum for the prioritization of surgical care grows, it is also clear that outdated models must be replaced by approaches that strengthen the entire ecosystem of safe surgery and anesthesia car