SA medical volunteers give new smiles to children in Mpumalanga
Operation Smile South Africa, in partnership with the Mpumalanga Department of Health and supported by MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet and many local Mbombela businesses, brought together a team of medical volunteers from across South Africa to transform the lives of 23 people, mostly children, with cleft lip and cleft palate, during a three-day surgical programme at Rob Ferreira Hospital over the weekend.
It is estimated that a child is born somewhere in the world with a cleft every three minutes, making it the third most common birth defect. Ideally corrective surgery should be carried out within the first 18 months of life. In many parts of South Africa where the public health system is over-burdened and under-resourced, safe surgery is not always freely available or accessible, and a child may have to wait years for the chance to live a normal life.
Without surgery, children with clefts face serious and debilitating long-term health problems and will likely suffer from emotional abuse and isolation.
“The longer a child born with a cleft must wait for surgery, the more serious their health, developmental and psychological problems will likely be. The good news is that cleft conditions can be surgically repaired in as little as 45 minutes by a specialist medical team,” explains Sarah Scarth, the executive director of Operation Smile South Africa.
“We believe everyone born with a cleft deserves access to safe surgery and comprehensive care. We are committed to reducing cleft surgical waiting times and are very pleased to be working with the Mpumalanga Department of Health and Rob Ferreira Hospital to provide high-quality cleft care at no cost to those in the province and surrounding areas,” says Scarth.
The Mpumalanga Department of Health said it was excited about the surgical program, as correcting the cleft improves the child’s quality of life and their ability to eat, breathe and talk. Surgery helps improve the person’s physical appearance, and can also help improve secondary impacts of the conditions, such as hearing and speech and language development.
“As a Department we take pride in our children and we aim to bring back the smile on the faces of our young generation,” said the MEC for Health in Mpumalanga, Sasekani Manzini, who welcomed the partnership with Operation Smile.
The Operation Smile’s team of volunteers, comprised of specialist plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaethetists, paediatricians, nurses, dentists, speech therapists and psychosocial professional travelled to Mpumalanga from across the country to team up with medical staff at Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mbombela. On Friday they conducted patient screening with surgeries taking place all day on Saturday and Sunday.
Each young patient and their parent or guardian received the highest quality of compassionate care at no cost. This included transport, accommodation, meals, medical evaluations, surgeries, and post-surgical evaluations such as speech and dental.
In addition to the surgical intervention, the weekend programme provided an opportunity to support the education and training of local medical professionals and surgical registrars.
“All this is made possible thanks to our committed volunteers and our generous supporters including I’Langa Mall and its tenants Mugg and Bean, Cappuccinos and Doppio Zero; Crossing Mall and its tenants Lupa Osteria and SuperSpar; Southern Sun Mbombela, Easy Stay and Woolworths, who partnered with us to make a difference in the lives of children they’ve never met,” says Scarth.
“The MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet programme is all about making a difference – and there are few things more life-changing than being able to offer transformational surgery to young people in need,” says MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet general manager, Pieter Twine. “Operation Smile does phenomenal work and we’re excited to be able to partner with them – off the back of no-cost donations by our members – to bring safe surgery to these children and their families in Mpumalanga and to support the education and training of local medical professionals through the transfer of key surgical skills and techniques.”