WHAT WE DO

At Operation Smile, we believe that children deserve access to free, safe and effective quality care. That’s where we start.

Not every country or community around the world is the same, so we work with local medical professionals, governments, hospitals, and other NGOs to create unique models of localised surgical care. Together, we determine which solutions work best to reach as many children as possible, and we’re going to keep refining our approach as we move forward.
The goal to give the most effective comprehensive care to our patients worldwide drives us each day.

It starts with the patient. It starts with the child.

Cleft Surgery across short and long-term surgical programmes

It takes as little as 45 minutes to perform a safe, effective reconstructive cleft surgery that can change a child’s life forever. Our patients receive a thorough medical screening to ensure they are healthy enough for surgery.

That is only the beginning. We believe in the completeness of care, and ensure that our patients receive critical follow-up care, including speech therapy, dental and psychosocial care.

Since Operation Smile was founded in 1982, we’ve provided thousands of free, effective, safe cleft surgeries to both children and adults in almost 60 countries.

Girl in screening session before her cleft lip and cleft palate surgery

Training and Education

Our global medical leadership teams design and deliver hands-on education programmes to train thousands of local medical professionals, so they can provide treatment within their own communities and share their expertise.

“Training and education isn’t just something we do — It’s at the heart of everything we do. It happens on every engagement through the exchange of ideas among our medical specialists from diverse backgrounds with varied levels of expertise. Together we have the same goal: improve how surgical care is delivered while empowering local communities.”

– Dr. Ruben Ayala, Chief Medical Officer, Operation Smile

Medical team in Operation Smile Training

Patient-centred Care 

Operation Smile is known for the free, safe, effective reconstructive surgeries we provide for patients with facial conditions, especially those with cleft lip or cleft palate.

But cleft care goes beyond surgery. It involves many additional components, from finding our patients, making sure they survive the first months of their lives, ensuring their fitness for surgery,  and arriving safely at the surgical programme site. They are guided with dignity and respect through the frightening experience of having surgery.

Finally, patient-centred care involves providing critical follow up care that ensures a long, healthy life. Our teams around the world make patient safety and experience the top priority

Boys playing with bubbles at screening pre-op for Cleft lip and cleft palate

Nutrition Programmes

Children born with cleft conditions often face major challenges with feeding and receiving proper nourishment during the critical months after they’re born. These factors can lead to malnutrition, delays in growth and development, and sometimes, even death.
If a child is malnourished, it is not safe to operate on them.

Our teams provide nutrition supplements for malnourished children and organise various workshops on nutrition, healthy food, culinary demonstration, breastfeeding, and cup feeding, all in partnership with local organisations. In this way we provide a way for parents to ensure their babies are healthy enough for surgery.

baby girl with cleft lip drinking from a milk bottle

Research on the causes of cleft

Operation Smile is currently conducting medical research to determine the causes and find cures for cleft conditions. This project, known as the International Family Study is led by Operation Smile academic partners at the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

The research uses genetic analysis, maternal and paternal questionnaires on environmental exposures and lifestyle habits.  More than 15,000 individual saliva samples from a vast array of ethnicities and more than 7,000 families have been collected.

We believe this study gives us the opportunity to promote scientific research in heavily understudied populations, allowing them representation in the emerging field of genetic research to ultimately promote scientific discovery and methods for global health improvement.

Girl with cleft lip and cleft palate giving sample for research

Increasing surgical capacity

The health infrastructure in many countries is not currently equipped to meet the overwhelming surgical need, and in many cases the countries are facing a critical shortage of trained healthcare professionals.

In countries like Ethiopia or Madagascar, Operation Smile is addressing the immediate surgical needs through increased surgical programming and collaboration with local hospitals, government and non-governmental organisations.

Malawi Doctor with teenager girl before cleft lip and cleft palate surgery

Stories You Make Possible

Explore Operation Smile stories from around the world highlighting the courage of patients and their families, the dedication of our volunteers and staff, and the generosity of supporters like you.