How Smile Train is Navigating the Coronavirus Pandemic


As the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact families, health systems, schools, and businesses worldwide, Smile Train’s top priority remains, as always, the safety and well-being of our beneficiaries, medical partners, friends, family, and global supporters.

Before the pandemic, Smile Train was supporting roughly 9,000 surgeries per month. As a result of postponed surgeries in regions where it has not been safe to perform them, we estimate a backlog of more than 33,000 cleft patients in need of surgery since January 2020 based on reported surgeries to date. In some regions, as it becomes safe, surgeries have begun to resume.

With Smile Train’s sustainable model of empowering local medical professionals within their own communities, we are able to react quickly to unprecedented events like pandemics. Our nimble teams have adapted to constantly changing conditions. We’ve continued to temporarily postpone surgeries where advisable, but our work has not stopped. We are continuing to support our international teams based on their unique needs, and many of our local medical partners are still on the ground acting as invaluable resources to their communities.

Where surgeries have been postponed, Smile Train has been providing ongoing comprehensive cleft care including nutrition, speech therapy, and psychological support to patients. Smile Train also invested more than $1M in the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), handwashing facilities, and masks for partners and patients, and essential equipment to empower partners to continue cleft care while protecting themselves and their patients against COVID-19, such as pulse oximeters and non-contact infrared thermometers. Where testing is available, Smile Train is supporting our local partners with grants that will aid testing of patients before they undergo surgery.

In addition to distributing food, hand sanitizers, and PPE within their communities, our medical partners have been spending time teaching locals the importance of handwashing and social distancing. In addition, many of our providers are using telemedicine to remain in touch with their patients, helping to care for them even while remaining socially distant. Through telemedicine, life-saving care, such as breastfeeding guidance for mothers of babies born with clefts, has been able to continue. Smile Train’s medical partners have remotely treated thousands of cleft patients— providing vital guidance to families, assisting new patients awaiting surgery, and identifying and helping those in need of food and supplies.

In Africa, as government restrictions begin to lift, we are working with local partners to resume lifesaving, free cleft surgeries. Where possible, patients can now receive safe cleft surgeries that will enable them to live full and productive lives. Our partners throughout Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have also cautiously worked to resume surgeries.

Another baby is born with a cleft every three minutes, even during a pandemic. While the needs of every region and medical partner are different, everyone who works with us at Smile Train shares an unwavering commitment to providing life-saving cleft treatment. Thanks to you, our passionate and caring supporters, Smile Train will be there to provide our patients and partners the care they need.

We are confident that we will emerge from this stronger and more connected than ever before.