By Mike Frialde – “Operation Smile,” the private and non-profit volunteer medical organization that provides reconstructive surgery to indigent children with cleft lips and palates worldwide, will mark its 30th foundation this year with the largest medical mission ever to be staged in the Philippines.
Some 300 volunteer medical professionals from 35 countries have started arriving in the country to join 700 Filipino volunteers and perform free reconstructive surgeries on an initial 1,500 indigent Filipino children with cleft problems. Operation Smile said a typical cleft lip or palate reconstructive surgery costs about P15,000 to be performed.
The reconstructive surgeries called “The Journey Home” will start tomorrow at the Bicol Medical Center in Naga City. Similar surgeries will also be performed by “Operation Smile” volunteers at the Rafael Lazatin Memorial Medical Center in Angeles City (November 12-17), Teresita Jalandoni Memorial Provincial Hospital in Silay City, Negros Occidental (November 12-17), Northern Mindanao Medical Center, Cagayan de Oro City (November 12-17), the Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila (November 26-30), De La Salle University Medical Center, Dasmariñas City, Cavite (November 26-30), Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Cebu City (November 26-30) and at the General Santos City District Hospital, General Santos City (November 26-30).
Operation Smile president Roberto Manzano said the medical mission intends to treat 4,500 children in the period of three weeks.
“After an extensive preparation, the journey home has begun. You can describe Operation Smile as being Filipino born of American parents,” said Manzano in a press conference in Makati Thursday.
American craniofacial surgeon William Magee, who together with his nurse wife Kathleen started the organization‘s work in the Philippines in 1982 following a medical mission in Naga City to treat children with cleft lips and palates.
Dr. Magee told reporters that in their initial surgeries, only 40 patients were treated but more than 300 showed-up and had to be turned away.
“One woman gave me a bunch of bananas to thank me for treating her daughter. But we were not able to treat her. We told the woman that we may be able to treat her daughter next year. So we went back and we were able to treat 150 children,” he said. Magee said that event marked the birth of Operation Smile.
“There is no better place in the world to start Operation Smile than in the Philippines. I think in our past lives we were Filipinos,” he said.
According to Operation Smile, cleft deformity is among the 12 congenital birth defects in the Philippines with some 4,000 children being born each year with a cleft palate, a cleft lip, or both.
Around the world, more than 200,000 children are born with cleft deformity each year. Of this number, about 10 percent or about 400 children die before reaching their first birthday with 12 percent, or about 480 not living past the age of five, Operation Smile said.
To date, Dr. Magee said Operation Smile have performed successful plastic surgeries on 24,000 Filipino children with cleft deformities.
“We have a catalytic effect by getting the community involved. Our goal is to eliminate the backlog,” he said.
“Now is the time to invest on our children who badly need this care and make sure that no child will live without a smile,” he added.
Meanwhile, Smart Communications on Thursday reassured Operation Smile of its continued technical support with the introduction of a mobile application designed to fast-track and systematize the recording and registration of patients using a smartphone.
Ramon Isberto, Smart Public Affairs Group head, said the telecoms firm would provide Operation Smile volunteers with a java-based mobile application that will enable volunteer doctors to take photos of the patient’s cleft deformity with the use of a mobile phone that can then be sent via the Internet to a centralized Web-based database. Important patient information will also be sent with the photo using the application.
The application was developed for free by the Ateneo Java Wireless Competency Center. The application, said Smart, is provided for free to Operation Smile as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility program.
Besides the application, Smart will also providing Operation Smile with the mobile phones needed for the operation.
“This is an example of how we can use mobile and web technologies for the benefit of volunteer medical organizations like Operation Smile. This technology will make their medical missions more efficient and successful,” said Isberto.
Isberto said the application will replace the manual registration of patients using paper forms that could either be misplaced or mishandled as the missions move from one location to another.
“All patient data encoded into the system via mobile phone is preserved and centralized in a database easily accessible by authorized medical personnel anywhere as long as there is Internet connectivity,” Isberto said.
“Operation Smile personnel can then review the patient’s records, sort through the data and generate reports. Soon, they will also be able to send medical recommendations to field workers for pre-surgical preparations. The application can also be used by local government units to start a facial cleft conditions registry in the Philippines,” Isberto added.
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