The Need

Cleft lip and palate conditions


By some estimates, over 160,000 babies are born yearly around the world with cleft lip and palate deformity.  This condition is seen when the normal tissues that make up the center of the face in the fetus do not fuse together properly, leading to a baby being born with a “gap” in the upper lip.  Historically, this has been known as Harelip, but  the abnormality often extends to the base of the nose and into the mouth (along the upper teeth and the palate).  These children usually have normal intelligence and learning abilities, and can accomplish great things.  Famous people born with clefts include NFL player Peyton Manning, the actor Joaquin Phoenix, and 14th century BC Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut).


In the simplest clefts, there is a small notch in the upper lip vermilion (the pink part forming the edge of the lips).  More extensive forms of the deformity can cause the gap in the lips to extend all the way up into the nostril, connecting the front of the mouth with the base of the nostrils, and leaving a gap along the upper gum line.  In some cases, the gap may extend back into the mouth to include the roof of the mouth (i.e. hard palate).  The most severe forms involve two gaps on the upper lip, one on each side of the central part of the lip.


Although these deformities can interfere with normal eating, breathing, and speaking, the condition can be treated with a series of one or a few operations during infancy and early childhood to allow children to have a healthy and happy outlook during their youth and as adults.  Unfortunately, in many places around the world, being born with such congenital deformities is a major social disadvantage.  The affected individuals are sometimes neglected and abused as children, mistreated in public, and sometimes even abandoned.  In some cultures, being born with a cleft is thought to be a curse from God, or a source of shame for parents.  In others, the condition is mistakenly thought to be contagious to the unborn baby of pregnant women, so many cleft lip children are never allowed to go outside lest they ‘infect’ a pregnant woman with their condition.


Without proper treatment, it can be difficult for cleft babies to grow into psychologically healthy adults who are productive members of their communities, since they are often disadvantaged when it comes to education, finding jobs, or starting families.  Through the dedication of volunteer organizations such as Destination: Hope, and the generosity of sponsors and donors, these life-changing treatments can be taken to disadvantaged communities around the world.