This week, for the first time, world leaders held a UN meeting on universal health coverage (UHC) and committed to achieving UHC by 2030. While it is an ambitious goal and there is a long way to go before this vision can become a reality, it was a historic day for global health.
To celebrate the historic occasion, Smile Train and some of our strategic partners in UHC held a panel discussion and reception at our offices.
The event kicked off with remarks from Smile Train’s CEO, Susannah Schaefer. She shared, “We have more young people than we ever have had in the history of humankind, and the number is growing. Many countries with the weakest surgical systems have the youngest populations. Children are disproportionately impacted by a lack of access to safe surgical and anesthesia care.”
Then, CBS News anchor Mr. Maurice DuBois got the event rolling by introducing the crowded room to panelists Dr. (Mrs.) Ebelechukwu Obiano, the First Lady of Anambra State in Nigeria, Mr. Pape Gaye, CEO of IntraHealth International, and Dr. Gagan Gupta, Maternal and Child Health Specialist with UNICEF.
Mr. DuBois shared, “It’s estimated that just under 1.7 billion children do not have access to safe, affordable surgical and anesthesia care when needed. Tonight, we’re going to hear insights from our panel of public health practitioners, advocates, and activists on how we go about ensuring that children’s health is prioritized as a part of UHC.”
There was a lively and illuminating discussion from the panel:
What is something tangible someone can do to advocate for access to surgical care?
First, don’t think the problem is too big to take on — we are making real progress. My advice is to amplify the voices of people and communities who need access to care. Share the stories of the people providing care on the front line. Tell the stories of people located in hard-to-reach, isolated areas and their realities. We are in an area of big data, but data doesn’t move people — we must combine our data with human stories. — Mr. Gaye
Can you give an example of progress you are making in surgical care in Nigeria?
We collaborate with Smile Train. Cleft is common and the patients need to be seen at a young age. We recently met a 16-year-old who has spent her entire life inside her home and had never been to school. We took her to the teaching hospital for her cleft lip surgery. Now she is in school for the first time. — Dr. Obiano
At one time, 1 in 4 newborn deaths occurred in India. How have those numbers changed?
The story of India is a story of large numbers. Infant mortality rates were so high because most births were happening in the home. In 2007, India introduced a program to create newborn care units in every state-run hospital. In a short time 8 in 10 births were now taking place at the hospital and new patients overwhelmed the system. So, India combined newborn care with early intervention programs providing care to pregnant women. These programs combined with a significant financial commitment — $90 million — dropped the infant mortality rate by 42% over an 11-year period. — Dr. Gupta
Mr. DuBois shared in his closing remarks, “Some policy-makers still think that surgery is a luxury. Surgical care is cost-effective; for every dollar spent on strengthening local health systems, ten dollars are returned in enhanced health and increased productivity. Universal Health Coverage provides greater access to education, promotes gender equality, and accelerates economic development. It is time for policy-makers to act.”
Smile Train would like to thank our event partners: the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Harvard Program in Global Surgery and Social Change, NCD Child, the G4 Alliance, and the Global Initiative for Children’s Surgery.
If you would like to help us provide smiles and second chances at life to children waiting for access to surgical care for clefts, please make a gift today.