Resuming Surgery and Patient Care

By Dr. Ruben Ayala, Chief Medical Officer, Operation Smile

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Operation Smile remains committed to providing our patients with the highest quality of cleft surgery and comprehensive care, and we are working in close collaboration with ministries of health and local authorities to determine when it will be safe to resume these activities in the countries where we work.

We firmly believe that comprehensive cleft care supports the entire well-being of our patients, and that these services, while considered “elective” by some, should be categorized as essential. The timely delivery of this care is vital to the health and dignity of those who are affected by cleft conditions.

Our team in Nicaragua continued serving patients virtually throughout the pandemic. Speech Language Therapist Scarlette Gomez is pictured here in an online appointment with a patient.

While we have relied on virtual platforms to continue serving our patients, we’re still unable to provide direct patient care in nearly every place where we work. We’re beginning to resume direct activity in places where health authorities have deemed it safe to do so.

In late May, we were able to resume providing surgeries in Vietnam and Italy. Our care center in Morocco, where patients receive year-round services like dentistry, speech therapy and psycho-social consultations, reopened in early June, and our center in Nicaragua is expected to reopen in July.

Operation Smile Vietnam was one of the first countries where we work to resume medical missions. This picture captures the social distancing procedure in place when patients arrived for screening day.

In these cases, and in every case going forward, the decision to resume surgery was and will be based on the latest scientific evidence and executed with the safety of patients, volunteers and staff as the top priority. These decisions were made in close collaboration with the countries’ ministries of health and local authorities, and each approach was tailored to the respective locations’ unique circumstances and capabilities.

Understanding the negative — even life-threatening — effects that cleft conditions present to our patients who are waiting for surgery, we’re providing as much support to them as we can.

To ensure their health and well-being, we’re providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support them and their health needs.

Our hearts go out to the nearly 10,000 Operation Smile patients who are still waiting for life-changing surgery and dental care. Our promise to bring them hope and healing endures in this challenging time. We will remain vigilant and return with the essential surgery and treatment that they need as soon as it’s safe to do so.

With gratitude,

Dr. Ruben Ayala

Dr. Ruben Ayala

Dr. Ruben Ayala is a physician and public health specialist from Panama with 25 years of experience with Operation Smile. He became involved with organization as student volunteer and has served in many programmatic roles before reaching his current position as Chief Medical Officer. He is also the current President of the Permanent Council of the Global Alliance for Surgical, Obstetric, Trauma and Anesthesia Care, and represents Operation Smile at the Global Initiative for Children’s Surgery, the World Health Organization’s Global Initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care and the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council.

Through our expertise in treating cleft lip and cleft palate, we create solutions that deliver safe surgery to people where it’s needed most. operationsmile.org