Operation Smile Australia launches Bangladesh program to support children with cleft conditions

Lexxi Katiuska Pushaina, 9 years, female, CP, Post, during Operation Smile Colombia's medical mission in Riohacha, Colombia on August 22, 2019. (Operation Smile Photo-Rohanna Mertens)

National not-for-profit medical organisation Operation Smile Australia has unveiled a transformative healthcare program in Bangladesh to provide lifesaving surgeries for children with cleft lips and cleft palates.

On March 6, 2024, a team of 27 Australian and New Zealand medical volunteers, including Operation Smile Australia founder and prominent surgeon Dr Richard Lewandowski, will travel to Sirajganj Hospital, four hours northwest of Dhaka, to launch the program.

Operation Smile Australia is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing life-changing surgeries to children born with facial deformities.

With a mission to improve the health and well-being of children in need, Operation Smile Australia works collaboratively with local partners and generous donors to create sustainable solutions and systemic change in healthcare systems worldwide.

Dr Lewandowski said an estimated 300,000 children in Bangladesh are living with untreated cleft conditions, with only 10 per cent surviving to see their 20th birthday.

“Our Bangladesh program has been created to incite positive and lasting change in the lives of children born with cleft conditions, ensuring that location is no barrier to receiving lifesaving health care,” said Dr Lewandowski.

The program will incorporate free surgical care for vulnerable populations and a training program for local health professionals.

“Over 10 days, medical volunteers will provide between 60-70 free cleft surgeries to children who lack access to healthcare services, addressing a critical gap in medical care for this vulnerable population,” said Dr Richard Lewandowski.

“Surgical intervention changes these children’s lives and improves their lifespans, reducing the risk of malnutrition and illness, and fostering greater education opportunities which many currently miss out on due to health complications and severe bullying.”

Operation Smile Australia will empower and equip local healthcare workers to conduct surgical programs year-round, creating sustainable, ongoing solutions to address the needs of children with cleft conditions.

Operation Smile Australia’s Bangladesh program has been made possible through a collaboration with local partners Sirajganj Hospital and the Jamuna Bank Foundation.

The combined effort from the global partners represents a commitment from all parties to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, of which health is a key focus.

The groundbreaking initiative is generously supported by the Judith Neilson Foundation, a major funder committed to contributing $100,000 each year for the next three years.

The Foundation’s support will enable Operation Smile Australia to continue to scale its operations in Bangladesh, supporting more vulnerable children each year.

Operation Smile Australia Founder Dr Lewandowski says the organisation is proud to embark on this transformative journey with its esteemed partners, Sirajganj Hospital and the Jamuna Bank Foundation, along with the unwavering support of the Judith Neilson Foundation.

“Together, we are taking a bold step towards creating lasting change in the lives of children with cleft conditions in Bangladesh,” said Dr Lewandowksi.

Operation Smile Australia invites the community, supporters, and partners to join the organisation in its vision to bring smiles to the faces of children and create equitable healthcare access for all.

For more information on Operation Smile, please see https://operationsmile.org.au/.

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