An Update from Operation Smile Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ruben Ayala on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear friends and Operation Smile supporters from around the world,

As the Operation Smile global family, we all believe that every day gives us a chance to serve, aid our communities, offer opportunities for our children and help heal humanity.

Today, we are in the midst of extraordinary times. Grounded in empathy, solidarity and concern for one another, our actions require the utmost measure, thoughtfulness and decisiveness.

The worldwide spread of the new coronavirus that causes the disease known as COVID-19 poses incredible challenges. Safeguarding the health and well-being of all, including everyone involved with Operation Smile, has been at the forefront of our activities. The safety of patients, caregivers, volunteers, staff, supporters and partners in each of our communities around the world has always been, and will continue to be, our top priority.

As new knowledge and evidence has become available from efforts guided by medical experts and top scientists, our senior leadership and our COVID-19 response team have remained watchful. We have constantly monitored the evolution of this disease from the onset.

The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. On 6 March 2020, after careful consideration of information produced by international health agencies and consultations with our partners where we work, we decided to suspend all international travel for volunteers who were to serve on Operation Smile programmes and activities.

This decision currently stands through 31 May 2020, and this period may be extended pending further evaluation of the state of COVID-19 globally.

For the time being, all programmes including medical missions, education and training, and public activities in Operation Smile programme countries have been temporarily paused. This includes Operation Smile’s year-round care centres. We are taking a case-by-case approach in consultation with our in-country executives and anticipate further cancellations and postponements through April, May and June.

We are also fine-tuning strategies to ensure we can amplify our efforts toward our patients once the situation improves. All decisions related to the resumption of our medical programmes will continue to be made in collaboration with our in-country teams, their local health ministries and other key stakeholders with safety as the top priority.

Finally, we understand that, in many countries, the talent of our volunteers is being directed toward emergent health care for people affected by COVID-19. We thank these heroes for their selfless and courageous service.

Around the world, we are also redirecting essential supplies and equipment, continuing nutritional support efforts where possible, and working with a multitude of partners and ministries of health to assist in this unprecedented time of need. In the spirit of solidarity, we’re working hard to find the most meaningful ways that we can to support the health needs of the communities in which we work.

In the words of WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “let’s all look out for each other, because we need each other.”

Now, more than ever, we must rely on each other to act with kindness, compassion and empathy.

From our global family to yours, we wish you and everyone in your community the best of health.

We invite you to refer to the WHO’s website for COVID-19 for further information and guidance.

In health,

Dr. Ruben Ayala, Chief Medical Officer, Operation Smile


Ngan’s new smile

Ngan’s name means “star,” but she wasn’t able to smile brightly

In Vietnamese, Ngan’s name means “star,” but she wasn’t able to smile brightly when she was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate.

Ngan’s family lives on the equivalent of $1.25 per day in the small, isolated village of Quy Nhon province in southern Vietnam. Without help, her family would never have been able to afford the reconstructive surgery that would change Ngan’s life and give her a bright future. But when Ngan’s parents heard that Operation Smile was conducting a surgical mission in Danang, Vietnam, they did everything in their power to bring Ngan to the medical mission. Ngan and her family travelled more than 200 miles for the chance to heal her smile.

Ngan received life-changing surgery on her cleft lip and cleft palate and now, 10 years later, she is a happy, healthy, vibrant girl – with a smile that shows it. As a hardworking student herself, Ngan dreams of becoming a teacher and allowing other children the chance to enjoy reading, writing and learning as much as she does.

Before she had surgery, Ngan’s facial deformity hindered her social engagement and even her involvement in school. Now, with the confidence she gained from her new smile, Ngan can reach her full potential. As a teacher, she can change the lives of others by helping the children in her village gain an education. Ngan’s parents say they had given up everything but hope before Operation Smile gave their daughter the chance to see her dreams become a reality. “Many poor families in our province will abandon their child if a baby is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate,” Ngan’s father said. He never wants this to happen, knowing how miraculous the transformation is with a free surgery through Operation Smile.

Ngan was saved by the gift of surgery and her father knows that other children will be, too, if his family can bring greater understanding of cleft conditions to their community. Ngan’s parents now actively refer other families of children born with facial deformities to Operation Smile in Vietnam. They are determined to ensure that every child has the opportunity for a bright future, regardless of their appearance. Today Ngan laughs with friends and smiles brightly. Her life has changed significantly.