As we come to terms with this new reality brought upon us by the COVID19 pandemic, people are finding ways to adapt and survive. The world is going digital, and people have realized that a consumerist lifestyle is a choice, not a need. Yet, there is some debate over what is ‘essential’, and what is not. A number of challenges are arising out of such a demarcation, particularly in the space of comprehensive cleft care.
Cleft surgeries fall under the category of “elective surgeries”, and therefore, have been temporarily postponed to a safer time. While the medical community understands the importance of this move, it is difficult to convince the parents of children born with clefts. For them, the only essential thing is their child’s healthy smile. Since the lockdown was implemented, our toll-free cleft helpline has been a source of hope for cleft patients, and our partner surgeons, speech-language pathologists, and outreach workers across India have been overwhelmed with queries and concerns.
Parents of children born with cleft lip and palate are experiencing feelings of hopelessness, because right now, there is a lack of safe transport facilities to go see a doctor and no access to OPD consultations of their child. They also fear the consequences of a delay in cleft treatment, and how this might affect the development of their child. We even received a unique query from a mother of a newborn with a cleft, asking us about how she can buy a specialized milk bottle for feeding her child as this medical item is listed as ‘non-essential’ by online sellers. Our local teams are doing everything in their power to assist those in need of immediate care.
“It's difficult for the parents of children with #clefts to comprehend the gravity of the situation, because for them, a free treatment through Smile Train's support was the only ray of hope," says Dr. Bhattacharya, our partner surgeon from Anandaloke Hospital, Siliguri. "I receive phone calls from worried parents every day asking if they come now, will I operate, and if not, will it be too late? I counsel them that Smile Train supported surgeries will always be available at Anandaloke hospital, but for now, protecting them, their child & our healthcare providers from Coronavirus is the priority, and that is why we must Stay Home to Stay Safe.”
Safety has always been our top priority. Smile Train India’s Medical Advisory Council has been busy laying the groundwork for developing safe surgery protocols in the post lockdown environment. Using the webinar platform to brainstorm and share knowledge, this team of experts is already ahead of the curve for adapting comprehensive cleft care to the current situation. Our speech-language pathologists aren’t far behind, and they too have been leveraging technology to support cleft patients and their families. In the coming days, we will organise more such initiatives, and our work to bring smiles to children with clefts will continue, in keeping with the safety measures in place due to the lockdown. We are sure that this is but a small hiccup in our journey #TowardsOneMillion smiles in India!