Smile Train To Expand Local Cleft Care Partnerships Throughout the Middle East

Program expansion includes Yemen and Iraq, countries where previous programs were interrupted due to conflict.

Smile Train Mena

NEW YORK – March 17, 2021 – Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft-focused organization, has announced new launches and expansions of partnerships in the Middle East region, with new cleft care programs set to open in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Oman in the coming months. In partnership with local medical professionals, Smile Train has recently re-launched cleft care programs in Yemen, soon to be followed by the resumption of services in Iraq, reinstating programs once halted by widespread conflict and crisis throughout those countries. Programs will also be further expanded throughout conflict-affected Palestine.

The need for cleft care in this region is especially great. Thousands of babies are born with clefts in the Middle East each year, including more than 1,000 in Yemen and Turkey and more than 1,600 in Iraq. Globally, every three minutes a baby is born with a cleft lip and/or palate. Children with untreated clefts can face physical difficulties eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking. Without treatment, clefts can cause lifelong disability or even death, but timely treatment alleviates many of these difficulties, ultimately enabling children to thrive.

“At the heart of our work is our relentless pursuit of ensuring every cleft-affected person has access to the care they deserve—and locally led partnerships enable us to do just that. It is imperative that we continue to expand our offerings in the Middle East region, as we know providers in many countries throughout the region are eager for support and training,” said Susannah Schaefer, President and Chief Executive Officer of Smile Train. “Many families have waited years for help to combat the far-reaching impacts of cleft with life-changing surgery. With the resumption and re-launch of partnerships throughout the region, Smile Train and our partners will be able to bring these patients and families the care that they need.”

“Children with clefts are being born around the world, including in conflict zones, every day.  Cleft treatment changes and saves lives, and every moment of delay is heartbreaking. Conflict has interrupted our historic partnerships in several countries around the world—in Yemen, in Iraq, and most recently Ukraine, where our partners have pivoted to provide crisis care,” added Erin Stieber, Chief Programs Officer at Smile Train. “But our return to Yemen and Iraq, and our expansion into new countries, will further our global work to establish sustainable, locally led models that build more resilient health systems. When it is safe to do so, working with local teams, we’re able to resume our work quickly and get back to serving those in need. Smile Train will not rest until every cleft-affected person, regardless of their country of origin, has access to the care they need and deserve.”


About Smile Train
Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding, and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children globally. We advance a sustainable solution and scalable global health model for cleft treatment, drastically improving children's lives, including their ability to eat, breathe, speak, and ultimately thrive. To learn more about Smile Train's sustainable approach, please visit

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Nijha Diggs
Smile Train