Cleft management in the Northern Territory: a review of the past 17 years (2000 – 2017)

Celina Lai1, Mr Mark  Moore1, Dr Gurmeet Singh1

1Royal Darwin Hospital, Darwin, Australia


About one infant in 700 live births is born with a cleft lip and/or palate (CL±P).  The prevalence of CL±P occurring in indigenous Australian population is reported to be higher when compared to the non-indigenous Australian population1.  The Northern Territory (NT) is the third largest state/territory in Australia and home to approximately 212 000 people of which 26.8% are Indigenous2.

In the “top end” of the NT, children born with CL±P are referred to the Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH) Cleft Lip and Palate Clinic for assessment, review and long term case management.  The RDH cleft clinic, made up of a multidisciplinary team of medical and allied health professionals, meet three times a year providing case management to children and young adults with a cleft condition.

Approximately 40% of active clients identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.  Of this group, nearly 70% live in a remote or rural location (population <5000 to <100000).  For this group, the challenges to providing optimal cleft care are substantial, when you consider language and cultural barriers to understanding western health practices, cultural variations in processes for decision making, limited access to allied health services in remote NT and the tyranny of distance.

Cleft management is a long journey where children are followed up into their early adult years.  Continual review of the way services are delivered is imperative to ensure children with CL±P living in rural and remote NT, receive a service equitable to those living in metropolitan areas.


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