Cleft Lip and Palate (CLP) is one of the most common birth defects in the world, affecting an average one out of every 600 live births worldwide. In Ethiopia, a country of over 85 million, an estimated one in every 574 babies is born with cleft lip and palate[1].

Children with CLP require surgery and rehabilitation to be provided in a coordinated manner and over a period of years by a team of health professionals. These treatments include corrective surgery, speech and hearing therapy, advice on feeding and nutrition, dental care, orthodontics, support for family members and psychological counselling.

In the developed world, the vast majority of children born with cleft lip and palate are treated successfully and lead normal lives. But millions of children and adults in developing countries suffer with unrepaired clefts. Many are abandoned shortly after birth, or kept hidden away from society. Most find it difficult to attend school, communicate easily, find jobs or get married.

“Cleft treatment is rarely considered a priority by hard-pressed health systems, who are already suffering from lack of resources and brain drain,” said Esteban Lasso, Executive Director.

International migration has meant that many developing countries are experiencing a severe shortage of skilled health care workers. Medical professionals, facing low wages and poor working conditions, are often compelled to seek improved opportunities abroad, or among more lucrative private practices in major city centres. Research suggests that there are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in Chicago than in Ethiopia[2].

More than 13,000 doctors trained in sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to be practicing in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia, leaving major shortages of trained professionals in the countries where they are needed most.

By 2015, experts are predicting the shortage of physicians in Africa to swell to 167,000[3]. The shortage of trained local health care workers in Ethiopia has been increasing at an alarming rate. Surgeons, specialists and nurses – particularly in publicly funded hospitals – face low wages and many have emigrated for better wages and opportunities in Europe and North America. In fact, there are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in Chicago than in Ethiopia[4].

Transforming Faces Worldwide, a registered Canadian charity that provides free, local surgery and comprehensive rehabilitation to children with cleft lip and palate, and other craniofacial conditions, is working to combat brain drain.

“In our partner countries, we are working together with local doctors, hospitals and communities to improve access to treatment,” explained Lasso.

Cleft lip and palate can be successfully treated by a combination of surgery and rehabilitation and can be provided for $350, on average. Transforming Faces believes that no child should be left without the treatment and support of skilled and caring cleft teams, and they work diligently to make that happen.

“Some believe the child is ‘fixed’ with physical repairs, but follow-up and rehabilitation are absolutely vital to address hearing, dental and speech issues,” said Lasso. “We are working to close the gap in cleft care so that we can continue to transform lives.”

For more on how we are working to close the gap in cleft care, click here. 

[1] According to a 2007 study performed by Dr. Mekonen Eshete and the team at Yekatit 12 Hospital.

[2] International Organization for Migration. “World Migration: Costs and Benefits of Migration”. Found at: http:// (2005)

[3] “Foreign aid should boost Africa doctors’ pay: WHO” (2008).

[4] International Organization for Migration. “World Migration: Costs and Benefits of Migration”. Found at: http:// (2005)