Many lower- and middle-income countries across the world have been affected on very deep levels by COVID-19. While Operation Smile’s primary business is to increase access to surgical services by providing comprehensive cleft care services to patients in need around the world, we quickly recognized a need to go well beyond this kind of support in the face of a global pandemic. Our response has changed depending on the need in each country.

India is home to millions of migrant workers who are daily wage earners. When India went into lockdown in late March, suddenly, none of these people were being paid. They lost their jobs overnight. Most of them didn’t have a place to stay and there were no trains or buses to return home. Operation Smile saw this as a problem, and we decided that that is a space we want to work in. Of course, we believe that it is our responsibility to stand beside communities even in times of hardship, especially in times of hardship.

By focusing on two cities where we have cleft care centers – Durgapur and Bombay – we were able to provide food kits to families throughout these cities who were going hungry during the lockdown. In about four weeks, we were able to support about 2,500 families with about 20 days of food per family. Along with the food kits, we provided hygiene kits including masks, sanitizers, soap and more. These donations were possible through partnership with the local government and the Inga Health Foundation.

A similar program was undertaken in Madagascar, in which Operation Smile provided Smile Nutri-packs to the families of Operation Smile’s cleft patients in six regions that have gone under lockdown and could not work. Each food kit was expected to last 15 days and provide 2,500 calories per day with leaflets on nutrition and healthy eating and hygiene. Malnourished cleft patients were also provided with adaptive formula and therapeutic food. This project was done in partnership with the National Office of Nutrition (ONN) and other local partners.

In both India and Madagascar, Patient Coordinators and staff remain in touch with our cleft patients throughout the country, innovating ways to provide virtual care and providing regular updates and reassurances about the care that will be provided for the patients.