A Common Language and A Common Cause

13 April 2015 | Smile Train

While working with local partners in Mozambique, Smile Train Africa staff members found the country had several unique challenges in trying to meet the needs of local cleft patients.

The country has excellent doctors, but there is a shortage of cleft specialists and resources in Portuguese. Unfortunately, no current member of our Smile Train Africa team speaks fluent Portuguese, the country’s primary language, so the team looked to our global partnership base of 1,100+ hospitals to find other solutions.

Dr. Gitahi, Smile Train Vice President and Regional Director, Africa, knew that Smile Train’s local partners in Brazil not only spoke Portuguese, but also have great programs throughout the region. So when he reached out for help with training in Mozambique, our local staff in Brazil concluded that the perfect partner would be Dr. Sergio Zanini. Dr. Zanini is an experienced plastic surgeon with more than 22 years of experience in cleft care, a skilled trainer and has helped preform over 6,000 cleft surgeries in his illustrious career.

After months of collaboration and preparation (with work from too many people to thank!) this February our Smile Train Mozambique/Brazil local partner exchange finally came to be. On the first day seven surgeons and six medical students meet with Dr. Zanini for their first patient screening and 12 cleft patients were chosen for demonstrative, teaching surgeries. Smile Train’s East Africa program director, Dr. Esther Njoroge, was on hand for the week and helped us capture photos of the new partnership.

In the afternoon the surgeons and students went in for classroom training. Dr. Fredrico Fortes of the Maputo Central Hospital said, “The training was one of the most significant events in cleft surgery in our country… our technical abilities were all raised by the experience and commitment demonstrated by Dr. Sergio Zanini.”

One of the beneficiaries of the exchange was Alex (pictured above). His mother said, “When he was born I was shocked and they told me I would have to wait to get him help. Now, my son looks beautiful. Thank you to everyone who made this happen.”

After four days of training and incredible hard work the team shared countless new smiles. Upon returning to Brazil Dr. Zanini wrote, “There is great need in Mozambique and access to treatment is precarious. The training and exchange of information was extremely effective and productive. I am grateful for the invitation from Smile Train and everyone who made this opportunity possible, and especially the local medical teams in Mozambique who have invested in their careers in our needed field.”

Global health challenges, like the shortage of cleft specialists in places like Mozambique, have directly informed our sustainable model for cleft treatment. Our “teach a man to fish” approach centers on the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” By investing in the capacity of local medical partners and helping to develop training programs like this one with our Brazilian partners, we’ve been able to help lay the groundwork for long-term, year-round care systems that are self-sustainable and primed for growth across Mozambique and beyond.