Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu and Smile Train India Brings Focus on Life Transforming Cleft-Surgery and Cleft Malnutrition

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New Delhi: Smile Train India, the country’s largest cleft-focused NGO, hosted Miss Universe 2021, Harnaaz Sandhu, during her homecoming. Harnaaz made the nation proud by bringing the crown home after more than two decades. As a Smile Train Ambassador and celebrated personality, Harnaaz has been instrumental in helping the organisation raise awareness around cleft. During her visit, Harnaaz travelled to Smile Train partner hospital National Heart Institute in Delhi where she had the opportunity to meet with the organisation’s local partner surgeons, cleft patients and their families, witness a surgery, and release the cleft nutrition handbook.

Speaking at the event, Harnaaz said, “In India, less than 50 per cent of children with clefts get treatment due to lack of awareness and inability to afford proper cleft care. While children with clefts have difficulties eating, breathing, hearing and speaking, several myths around cleft lip and palate lead to children living a life of isolation and discrimination. As an ambassador, I plan to continue to use my voice and platform to advocate for those affected by cleft.”

Every year, more than 35,000 children are born with a cleft lip and/or palate in India. While the ideal age for lip surgery is 3-6 months and palate surgery 9-18 months after birth, associated stigma and lack of awareness about this treatable birth difference force children to live with an untreated cleft leading to other health complications. Malnutrition is common in babies with cleft and gravely affects their ability to thrive.

Smile Train Senior Vice President & Regional Director for Asia, Mamta Carroll said, “We at Smile Train India are proud to have supported more than 6.5 lakh surgeries in the past 21 years. And even today, our partner medical professionals face queries regarding cleft lip and palate which depict the need to debunk myths associated with clefts by having more conversations. We know the power of public opinion in creating societal change, especially in a large and populous country like India. With Harnaaz’s support, we hope to create the right buzz and awareness around a topic as sensitive and neglected as this one.”

Speaking at the event, Dr Karoon Agarwal said, “As we extend a warm welcome to our guest of honour, Harnaaz Sandhu, we are grateful for her association and enthusiasm to help spread awareness for the cause. Harnaaz’s support is crucial for a wider impact. To provide cleft surgeries in a timely and safe manner, sustained nutritional care is required to prevent infant malnutrition. The nutrition handbook developed by Smile Train India would help the cleft-affected families in learning and adopting the right feeding methods and practices.”

Earlier this year, Harnaaz launched the Zor Se Bolo awareness campaign for breaking the myths associated with clefts where she urged celebrity supporters, medical partners, donors, and cleft patients to create ripple effects by communicating several pertinent facts regarding comprehensive cleft care for children on different platforms. The ‘Zor Se Bolo’ campaign is in line with Smile Train India’s previous initiatives around National Cleft Day to improve the quality of cleft care available to children in India.