Our Global Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Global
From the Field
Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

Editor's note: April 24, 2020 updates include our first virtual events on our response to the pandemic and the donation of food and hygiene supplies to patients' families in Guatemala.

Today, our teams around the world are refocusing their efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities while remaining committed to caring for our patients’ and their families’ health and well-being.

From Vietnam to Guatemala, we’re providing immediate relief through redirecting supplies and equipment to support health workers who are on the frontline.

In places like Nicaragua and Colombia, we are utilizing technology to safely deliver consultations like speech therapy and psychosocial counseling to our patients.

“I’ve been impressed by our countries’ unselfishness in responding to a difficult situation amid significant uncertainty,” said Stuart Myers, Operation Smile Senior Vice President of Programs. “The easy move – the safe move – would have been to stand back and see how things played out. They didn’t do that. They willingly gave what they had available to help others in need.”

Click here to watch Stuart and Ernest Gaie, Senior Advisor, Global Business Operations, in our first “COVID-19 Conversations” virtual event about our response to the pandemic and stay tuned for more from this ongoing series.

Photo: Peter Stuckings.
Photo: Peter Stuckings.

Redirecting supplies and equipment

By redirecting crucially needed supplies and equipment such as gloves, masks, gowns and ventilators where they are most needed, our teams worldwide are providing immediate relief to hospitals and supply chains that are being stretched beyond capacity.

Much of our expertise is geared toward operating in resource-poor settings, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created a similar lack of supplies and equipment in some of the world's wealthiest countries.

In many of the countries where we work, our teams are donating the personal protective equipment they have on-hand to hospitals in their communities.

This includes the United States, where we donated 1,800 face masks and 4,500 gloves to Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“We are grateful, as Operation Smile is a neighbor who stepped up to help us help the community,” said hospital CEO Paul Gaden. “These donated supplies are much-needed as we deal with this global health pandemic.”

Operation Smile donated 1,800 face masks and 4,500 gloves to Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Operation Smile photo.
Operation Smile donated 1,800 face masks and 4,500 gloves to Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Operation Smile photo.

Similar donations are being distributed around the world by our international foundations in Bolivia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa and Vietnam.

Operation Smile Guatemala has donated more than 4,000 surgical gloves and 400 protective masks to Hospital Juan Pablo II in Guatemala City. They also partnered with United Way and Rotary Guatemala to provide the families of 62 patients with a 30-days-worth of food and hygiene supplies.

“We know that we are in a time of uncertainty; we do not know what is going to happen,” said Operation Smile Guatemala’s Executive Director Beatriz Vidal. “To contribute in a time of a national emergency ... This is what it motivates us the most. To be the difference, to be agents of change.”

The director of Children's Hospital John Paul II, Dr. Martiza Quex, is also a volunteer pediatrician for Operation Smile Guatemala. She said that donations like this are critically needed in Guatemala, where the country's health system is not prepared to handle a viral outbreak on the scale of COVID-19.

“They (the hospital staff) were very grateful, because this donation will allow them to protect both patients and staff,” Martiza said. “Joining efforts for the common good is very important in every moment, but especially in emergent situations like this one, where the lives and health of people are threatened regardless of where they are.”

April 9, 2020, update: Operation Smile Honduras donated $40,000 of personal protective equipment and other supplies to the Honduras Ministry of Health, which is distributing the supplies to the main public hospitals in Tegucigalpa. Operation Smile photo.
Operation Smile Mexico donated $10,000 of personal protective equipment and other supplies to five hospitals in three Mexican states.
April 9, 2020, update: Operation Smile Mexico donated $10,000 of personal protective equipment and other supplies to five hospitals in three Mexican states. “Medical staff from the entire country is fighting against COVID-19 and there are not enough medical supplies in Mexico. We hope that this donation helps our medical volunteers, partners and people in the health sector in general so they can keep giving their best effort while feeling protected,” said Miguel Ángel Pichardo, executive director of Operation Smile Mexico. Operation Smile photo.
April 9, 2020, update: Operation Smile Paraguay donated supplies and equipment to Paraguay's Health Service of the Armed Forces. Operation Smile photo.
Operation Smile Vietnam donated medical equipment and supplies to Vietnam-Cuba Hospital and Thu Duc Hospital. Operation Smile photo.
Operation Smile Ghana donated medical supplies and equipment to provide frontline COVID-19 support. Operation Smile photo.
Operation Smile Ghana donated medical supplies and equipment to provide frontline COVID-19 support. Operation Smile photo.

We're also providing additional support to partner hospitals and health workers so they can safely deliver patient care both during and after the current pandemic. 

We hosted our first webinar for health care professionals in low- and middle-income countries, “Anesthesiology and Critical Care Forum: Implications of COVID-19 in LMICs,” on April 17.

And plans are underway to remodel and outfit intensive care units to treat patients with COVID-19. Alongside our partners DiaMedica and Lifebox, we purchased 100 oxygen concentrators and 200 pulse oximeters, respectively, to be delivered to hospitals in Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Morocco and Egypt. 

We're also exploring more potential partnerships to continue building upon our response to the pandemic. 

Continuing our commitment to patients

While we direct efforts toward responding to the pandemic, we also understand that our patients’ needs remain, as does our commitment to their health and dignity. Around the world, our volunteers and staff are developing new ways to support our patients and their families through this uncertain time.

In Managua, Operation Smile Nicaragua is conducting speech therapy and psychosocial consultations using Facebook Live with patients who have internet access and by phone for those without it. Speech therapist Scarlette Gomez said that the virtual session are both highly effective and appreciated by patients and their families.

“I’ve always tried to portray therapy as something you can do at home, having a fun time and learning as much as we can,” Scarlette said. “I’ve been working with most of these patients for more than two years now and ... I get excited every time I get to see them; it makes them really happy when we make progress.”

Virtual Speech Language Therapy in Nicaragua

"Thanks to Operation Smile for supporting my son in doing speech therapy online, so he can continue improving his speech" said the mother of Isaias, one of Scarlette's speech therapy patients. "Thanks to Dr. Scarlette for her support, and I hope they continue supporting us as they always have."

Operation Smile Colombia speech therapist Angie Agudelo
Operation Smile Colombia speech therapist Angie Agudelo.

In Colombia, speech therapist Angie Agudelo is uploading videos to Operation Smile Colombia’s YouTube channel, sharing ideas of activities that kids can do while staying isolated at home.

Plans are currently underway to expand virtual consultations across all Operation Smile foundations in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.

We are also ramping up nutritional support for our patients who are suffering from malnutrition. Even before the pandemic, these are patients whose lives are at risk because they are unable to grow strong enough to receive surgery safely.

A mother in Madagascar provides ready-to-use therapeutic food to her child in 2017. Operation Smile photo.
A mother in Madagascar provides ready-to-use therapeutic food to her child in 2017. Operation Smile photo.

In Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Madagascar, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Guatemala, hundreds of cases of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a nutritive peanut paste, are being mobilized and plans are underway to safely distribute these supplies to the patients and families who need them.  

Around the world, our volunteers and staff are reaching out to as many of our patients and their families as they possibly can, letting them know that once it’s safe to do so, we will be there for their cleft care need as we were before the pandemic.

Innovating to address communities’ needs

Our foundations are also responding to the unique situations that are unfolding in their countries. An innovative response is being conducted by Operation Smile India.

Originally, the foundation sought to purchase and redirect supplies of personal protective equipment to its partner hospitals, but soon learned that there is a massive shortage in India, and it would be unable to provide this kind of support.

Committed to support the communities in which it works, the foundation is partnering with the Inga Health Foundation and local governments in Mumbai and Durgapur to distribute food and personal hygiene items to 700 families and workers in the informal sector who are being hit the hardest by the nationwide lockdown that’s been in effect since March 24 and will last until mid-April.

April 9, 2020, update: Operation Smile India staff prepare food kits for distribution. Operation Smile photo.

“These are people working in construction sites, small and large factories, shops and more,” said Operation Smile India’s Executive Director Abhishek Sengupta. “Given the lockdown, the places where they usually worked have been shut down, and thus they have lost their employment and daily wage. A huge chunk of these daily wage workers are migrant workers, mostly people from rural India coming into cities for employment opportunities …

“We want to stand beside communities that we serve,” Abhishek said. “We are still in contact with our patients and we are looking at opportunities to reach out to more people.”

Operation Smile India's Executive Director Abhishek Sengupta. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Operation Smile India's Executive Director Abhishek Sengupta. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

In the U.S., Operation Smile student volunteers are spearheading a new initiative, “Serving Smiles,” by providing meals to health care professionals who are working tirelessly on the front line of the pandemic. 

The impact of Serving Smiles is three-fold: the initiative brings much-needed business to restaurants, provides health care workers with support and appreciation, and empowers students to give back during a time of dire need. During each delivery, which takes place outside of the hospitals, students practice social distancing and wear personal protective equipment to ensure that the donations are made with safety of everyone involved as the top priority.

The pilot program is underway in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, region and plans are in the works to expand it into areas across the country. 

“Never has it been so critical that our local community support one another and partner to meet the COVID-19 challenge together. On behalf of our frontline and non-frontline staff at DePaul Medical Center, we express our deepest gratitude for the outpouring of support displayed by Operation Smile and our local restaurants and food vendors. Your donations have not only fed our bodies but have nourished our minds and lifted our spirits,” said Cindy Segar-Miller, Hospital Administrator for Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center in Norfolk, Virginia.

Sixteen-year-old Operation Smile student volunteer Xander Zimmerman helped deliver lunches to Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center. “I want to step up and lend a hand. This is a way to show appreciation because every kind gesture matters,” Xander said.

Participating in the Serving Smile initiative, Operation Student volunteers drop off dozens of meals to Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Operation Smile photo.

These are just some of the ways our teams around the world are changing the way they’re working to serve the needs of the local community.

We’re committed to helping how we can in the global COVID-19 response, and we’ll remain agile to address new needs as they arise.

We will be providing ongoing updates to our global COVID-19 response through updates to this story and other blog features as well as our social media accounts.

“We would never be able to be where we are today without you, and we won’t be able to be where we need to be tomorrow without you,” said Operation Smile’s Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Bill Magee in the video below. “We need to keep forging on, accepting the challenges that come back to us day in and day out, and we know we can do it, because you are right there beside us, helping us move forward, so we can’t thank you enough.”

A Message From Our Co-Founders on COVID-19