Morag Cromey-Hawke of Operation Smile flanked by two young girls who have had a palate surgery Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Children born with a cleft lip or cleft palate in the UAE now have a reason to smile. The charity Operation Smile UAE (OS UAE) is conducting a free surgical mission in Abu Dhabi from July 27 to 29.

“OS UAE initially set out to raise funds and recruit medical volunteers, but it soon became evident that there were patients here who did not have access to safe surgery due to the high cost of treatment,” said the charity’s executive director Morag Cromey-Hawke. “Many did not know where or how to seek help for their babies. So we decided to help.”


Cromey-Hawke said OS UAE hopes to treat over 20 patients in the upcoming mission. “We will screen all those who contact the charity. Some of them may be too young for surgery but we will try to help them at a later date.” An international charity that provides free, corrective and safe surgery to children and young adults born with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities, OS was founded in 1982 in Norfolk, Virginia, by Dr Bill Magee and his wife Kathy. OS UAE, established in 2011, has funded more than 16 missions in countries such as the Philippines, Morocco, Jordan, Ethiopia, India, China, Vietnam and Madagascar. It has provided free surgeries for more than 3,500 patients and recruited 50 medical volunteers from the UAE for its overseas missions.

Best reward

The calling, closer home now, also has many takers. “We believe serving people is the biggest purpose of our lives. Bringing a smile to the faces of children and their parents is the best reward for us,” said Dr Ahmed Shorrab, anaesthetist who will participate in the Abu Dhabi mission.

“Doing something that you love is very fulfilling,” said volunteer surgeon Shehzana Fatima.

Shareef Alnatour, who will be volunteering as a nurse, said Operation Smile is all about goodwill and reaching out to those in need.

Cleft lip facts

-Cleft lip is a congenital birth condition

-One in 700 children worldwide are born with the condition

-If not treated, it can cause eating problems, ear infections, speech and dental issues and even early death

-Babies can receive a cleft lip repair by the time they are six months old

-A cleft palate can be repaired at nine months or older. In many countries, children do not have access to surgery when they are this young.

-Operations can be performed on both adults and children but the repair works best when the child is young and is yet to start speaking. This also helps prevent children from being bullied

If you know a child or young adult suffering from a cleft condition get them to contact Operation Smile UAE on email: patients@operationsmileuae.ae or call: 02-658 4790

The writer is an Abu Dhabi-based freelancer