DR RAJENDRA Nehete from Vedant Hospital in Nashik and his team of three doctors are cycling over 650 km from Pune to Goa on November 5 and 6 to promote awareness about cleft lip. This cycle marathon will be a part of The Deccan Cliffhanger, an annual Ultra Cycling Race. Dr Nehete is the director of the Smile Train – an NGO providing free cleft surgeries – project at Vedant Hospital.
On the seriousness of the cleft lip problem in the country and the reasons behind it, Dr Nehete said, “Estimates suggest that over 35,000 children are born with clefts every year in India alone. Cleft can be easily corrected with surgery but over 50 per cent of children with clefts do not get the necessary treatment due to lack of awareness or simply because they cannot afford the cost of surgery.” Over 10 lakh cleft cases are untreated in India today, he added.
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So how did he come up with the idea of cycling for the cause? He answers, “Since my college days, I was involved in fitness activities such as trekking and mountaineering before I took to cycling. Two of my colleagues participated in a cycling marathon in the US to raise funds for corneal transplants in tribal communities.” That is where they got the idea of cycling to spread awareness about cleft.
He added that since then, he and his colleague Ramakanth Patil, a pediatrician at Smile Train, have participated in events around the country, covering distances of 200 to 400 km. When he decided to participate in the Deccan Cliffhanger, he knew this was an opportunity to bring two passions together. The distance to be covered, i.e. 647 km, is greater than what he has covered earlier, and he hopes to cover a greater area to spread awareness.