As many as 20,400 infants are born with cleft lip/palate each year in Guatemala. While easily treatable in rich countries, cleft lip/palate often has tragic consequences for the desperately poor Guatemalans we serve.

Cleft infants are unable to breastfeed and their parents cannot afford formula. In desperation, parents try feeding them various liquids with a spoon, but usually the child cannot receive adequate nourishment.

This tragic situation inspired Partner for Surgery’s Targeted Infant Nutrition Program (TINP). When a cleft infant is born, our trained rural midwife informs the local Health Promoter (see below). The infant is brought to the nearest health center as soon as possible and evaluated, weighed and registered in the health system. The mother then receives either a breast pump or donated formula (if no longer producing milk), special nursing bottles, and detailed instructions. Without the intervention of TINP, these children are likely to die of starvation. While the initial goal of the program is simply to keep the infant alive, ultimately, the goal is to help the infant gain weight and be strong enough to undergo surgery. Health Promoters see each child at least once per month and monitor their weight gain. Within about a year, the child will be ready for surgery. The Health Promoter accompanies the patient and a member of the family, to provide interpretation services and emotional support.

The Future of the Targeted Infant Nutrition Program

Successful for those children lucky enough to be enrolled, the number of children having this condition is daunting. In 2012 we undertook important next steps, and have been funded to:

  • Expand the Rural Midwife network, and provide them with training
  • Explore the feasibility of promoting the use of breast pumps
  • Initiate the 1st steps of an epidemiological study to look at incidence rates/geographic cluster occurrence data