Even during the current coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, around 540 babies are born with a cleft worldwide daily. At these trying times, many of those who are affected are having even greater difficulty in getting their much-needed comprehensive cleft treatment.
Good thing is, world’s leading cleft charity Smile Train did not stop their work and was able to react quickly to unprecedented event like this.
“During the pandemic, the world doesn’t really stop. Mothers are still giving birth to children with cleft. In many places, they weren’t able to travel or the hospitals are not receiving patients so there’s now wait list. Literally, thousands of babies are waiting for surgery and care,” admitted Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano, Country Director of Smile Train Philippines, during a virtual media conference.
According to Flaviano, while surgeries have been temporarily postponed, Smile Train continues to provide ongoing comprehensive cleft care including nutrition, speech therapy and psychological support to patients.
“This year was a different year because of the Covid pandemic. The last three or four months we saw a drop in the number of cases in many hospital nationwide. Some stopped doing operations. But Smile Train is not just about surgery. What we strive to do is to be able to provide cleft comprehensive care to those who need it whether be it counseling, guidance in terms of how do you breastfeed baby with a cleft or after surgery, what does the child still need, among others,” Flaviano noted.
“We are also providing psychosocial support. These are for older patients who don’t have the same self-confidence to apply for a job. We try to provide different avenues to be able to support them,” she continued.
Since parents aren’t able to visit clinics resulting to unanswered questions, Smile Train is trying provide them opportunities through virtual consultations with their partner surgeons or doctors, or through Facebook Live discussions.
“This has been very helpful to increase more awareness and interest about receiving cleft care. Right now, we’re providing free one-on-one speech telehealth sessions. In fact from April to August, there were around 500 telehealth speech therapy sessions we supported. Smile Train have also supported about 500 surgeries around the country from March to August.
“Prior to Covid, we noticed that many patients are not able to go to clinics or hospitals to receive speech therapy sessions. Sometimes parents are busy or they have problems with transportation. But this time, since they are at home and many have them have access to internet or at least mobile phones. The speech pathologist can at least call them and then the can work on the speech exercises and then they can do the therapy online or virtually,” she added.
Smile Train has been supporting roughly 9,000 surgeries per month before the current pandemic. As a result of postponed surgeries in regions where it has not been safe to perform them, they have estimated a backlog of more than 33,000 cleft patients in need of surgery since January 2020 based on reported surgeries to date. However in some regions, as it becomes safe, surgeries have begun to resume.
“Smile Train is here to help whether to provide with surgery today or in the next few months or next year. We want to let them know that they can depend on us and they can entrust their child to us and our Smile Train partners. We’re here to help them even in this trying time,” Flaviano ended.