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Operation Smile Continues to Provide Safe Surgery During COVID-19 Pandemic

Operation Smile celebrated June as National Safety Month by highlighting the ways in which its dedicated volunteers continue to provide safe surgical care for patients with oral cleft conditions worldwide.

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Operation Smile celebrated June as National Safety Month by highlighting the ways in which its dedicated volunteers continue to provide safe surgical care for patients with oral cleft conditions worldwide. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Operation Smile is adapting its practices to ensure that children are still able to receive life-changing surgeries. In March 2020, Operation Smile suspended international travel for medical volunteers and postponed medical missions and treatment at care centers. The organization addressed many of the pandemic’s challenges, such as providing hospitals around the world donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) and providing patients and their communities with food and hygiene supplies.

“We have watched dismayed how the number of children needing treatment has increased during the pandemic,” observes Ruben Ayala, MD, Operation Smile’s chief medical officer. “Understanding the enormity of the challenge, we have pulled together our knowledge, people, and resources. Our leaders around the world have laid out country-specific plans for adapting, evolving, and creating environments where care can still be delivered safely. Cautiously, but optimistically, we carry on the work where possible, sending a clear message to our patients that, in spite of the pandemic, we have not abandoned them — and we never will.”

Over the past year, Operation Smile’s Global Volunteer Resources team was building a growing list of more than 200 international volunteers that are vaccinated and ready to travel. In April of 2021, Operation Smile sent three international teams into the field in Guatemala. Since then, other teams were able to travel abroad and join forces with local entities to help provide surgeries to children in the midst of the pandemic.

The teams took extra precautions, such as use of enhanced PPE, rigorous COVID screenings for patients, parents, and volunteers, and increased cleaning procedures and social distancing. While the team performed fewer surgeries in order to maintain physical distancing and cleaning protocols, the ultimate goal of safely providing life-changing surgeries to children was met.

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