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Cleft repair surgery costs $250, contributes $20 billion to global economy

Staff writer |
For as little as $250 committed toward one cleft repair surgery, as much as $50,000 is put back into the local economy.

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Former cleft patients go on to contribute to economic productivity and lead full, productive lives in their communities, according to a newly published study featuring Smile Train in the World Journal of Surgery.

This amounts to a more than 200x return on investment for a single cleft repair.

The independent study—Economic Valuation of the Global Burden of Cleft Disease Averted by a Large Cleft Charity—measures the economic impact of Smile Train's cleft repair surgical work over 10 years.

The study is one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of the economic and public health value of cleft lip and palate repairs in the developing world.

The total economic impact achieved from Smile Train's cleft repair surgeries globally — measured from 2001-2011 across 83 countries where the organization has a footprint — amounts to as much as $20 billion.

"Investment in cleft lip and palate surgical repair has resulted in tremendous economic gain for low and middle-income countries, shining a light on the impact and cost-effectiveness of surgical interventions globally," said Dr. Scott Corlew, one of the study's authors.

"Cleft repair surgery greatly lowers a country's surgical disease burden by allowing patients to return to economic productivity and meaningfully participate in their societies, creating a more prosperous and resilient global community."

Cleft is a serious issue in the developing world, particularly in regions where there is great stigmatization around misunderstood birth defects, resulting in ostracism, isolation and, in some cases, even infanticide.

The study was conducted using data from 547,769 Smile Train patient records of primary cleft procedures. Fifty-eight percent of the records were cleft lip repairs, and 42 percent were cleft palate repairs.

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