Each day, 540 children around the world are born with a cleft, causing difficulties with eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking. To help these children, Smile Train, the world’s leading cleft organization, supports 100%-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care for children globally—a service that could have been severely disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, if not for the Virtual Telehealth Program and Speech Camp that was launched in the Philippines.
Since the start of the pandemic, Smile Train’s Speech Telehealth Program in the Philippines has treated over 100 patients, providing them with more than 700 cleft care-related sessions, including speech therapy, nutritional support, breastfeeding guidance for mothers of babies with clefts, pre-surgical consultations, and psychosocial care. This initiative was recently recognized during the 56th Anvil Awards as the organization bagged the Silver Award.
The Anvil award is a testament of Smile Train Philippines’ efforts to bring uninterrupted care to patients with a cleft palate even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It also shines the light on the dedication and commitment of the volunteers, healthcare institutions, and corporate partners of Smile Train Philippines to rally support for cleft patients so that they may still receive comprehensive cleft care online.
Launched in April 2020, two weeks into the lockdown, the Virtual Telehealth program is manned by volunteer speech language pathologists. Maximizing technology and social media, the Virtual Telehealth Program made use of Facebook Live, chat applications such as Viber and Messenger, and online discussions to ensure that speech therapy classes continued virtually. More than that, the telehealth program managed to reach cleft patients who live in rural or isolated communities and made its services more readily available or convenient for people with limited mobility, time, or transportation options. When and where possible, Smile Train Philippines also provided phone cards for both the speech language pathologists (SLPs) and the patients to help with connectivity.
”This recognition by our peers in the communication industry is proof that we are making headway in our call for a more efficient telehealth network. A combination of a variety of solutions as encouraged by telehealth will ensure that children and adolescents with special needs do not get left behind, especially during a global pandemic,” said Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano, Area Director – South East Asia, Smile Train. “For Smile Train, telehealth became not only a lifeline, but a tool for amplifying reach and promoting equity.”
The over 700 sessions given to more than 100 patients were provided from April 1st to December 31, 2020. This is more than double the number of patients who received virtual speech treatment during the same period in 2019.
With a strategy focused on educating, amplifying, and sustaining, Smile Train’s Virtual Telehealth Program garnered widespread coverage in the media, positive public reception, increased recognition for Smile Train and its advocacy, and ultimately saw an increase in speech-language pathologists interested in working with Smile Train Philippines.
Smile Train believes that every child is worthy of the opportunity to live a normal life, and is committed to exploring various avenues and utilizing technology to reach more communities in the Philippines. Through the Virtual Telehealth Program, it continues to help its beneficiaries, reach out to its audiences, and, all in all, continue raising awareness about cleft lip and palate – bringing hope to those who need it the most.