Dental Tribune USA
National Safety Month is held each June, and in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic Operation Smile is adapting its practices to ensure that children are still able to receive life-changing surgeries. The organization revolutionized cleft surgery globally in 1982. (Photo: Operation Smile)

Operation Smile provides safe surgery around the world in wake of pandemic

By Dental Tribune USA
July 05, 2021

Held every year in June, National Safety Month observes the importance of following safety guidelines in our daily lives. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, safety is more critical than ever, and a volunteer-based nonprofit, Operation Smile, is adapting its practices to ensure that children are still able to receive life-changing surgeries in a changed world.

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

In March 2020, Operation Smile made the decision to suspend international travel for medical volunteers and postpone medical missions and treatment at care centers. The organization quickly addressed many of the pandemic’s novel 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 as lockdowns stifled livelihoods.

“We have watched dismayed, how the number of children needing treatment has increased during the pandemic,” said Dr. Ruben Ayala, 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 2021, Operation Smile was able to send three international volunteers into the field in Guatemala. Since then, other teams of volunteers 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 enhanced personal protective equipment, 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.

Operation Smile revolutionized cleft surgery globally in 1982. With nearly four decades of experience as one of the largest surgical volunteer-based nonprofits, Operation Smile staff, its private-public partnerships and thousands of volunteers have improved the health and dignity of patients with cleft conditions, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live lives of greater quality and confidence.

While one cleft surgery can bring immediate transformation to a child’s life in as little as 45 minutes, Operation Smile is committed to providing patients with health that lasts — being there to offer patients additional surgeries, dentistry, psychological services, speech therapy and other essential cleft treatments. Its training and education programs elevate local surgical standards and entire health systems to aid safe surgery and strengthen a global network to reach more people earlier in their lives.

More information about this transformative and healing work is available by visiting or by following @operationsmile on social media.

(Source: Operation Smile)

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