Operation Smile Philippines scales up investments to better serve more Filipinos in need of cleft care

Operation Smile reaffirms commitment to transform 1 million lives across the world,  with a focus on transforming local health systems. 

In its 40th year, Operation Smile, a non-profit medical services organization, entered a commitment to increase access to care for 1 million patients in need of cleft care and other essential surgeries. Building on decades of learning and success, Operation Smile has provided free, life-changing surgical and dental care to patients in need across the world.

In the Philippines, one in every 500 children is born with cleft lip or palate conditions.

“As Operation Smile enters a new era as a global network driving access to high-quality healthcare, this milestone is the perfect time to reiterate our commitment to provide holistic care for children and their communities for the next 40 years and beyond,” said Donald Lim, Operation Smile Philippines President.

Up for the challenge of addressing cleft conditions in the country

While significant strides have been made to address cleft conditions in the Philippines, access to quality healthcare remains a challenge – especially for communities residing in far-flung areas. Without access to surgery, cleft patients may struggle to eat, breathe, and speak, and deal with potential self-esteem issues.

In 1982, Operation Smile was born from a medical mission conducted by Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee to repair children’s cleft lips and palates in Naga City, Philippines. Since then, Operation Smile Philippines has impacted a total of 88 cities and municipalities, conducted 338 surgical programs, and successfully treated over 32,925 patients around the country.

A comprehensive approach to cleft care

In treating patients with cleft conditions across the country, Operation Smile Philippines employs a holistic approach to delivering comprehensive cleft care – providing nutrition education, cleft surgery, speech therapy, and psychosocial care. This approach has led to the development of comprehensive care centers in Manila, Pampanga, and Davao. By establishing these centers close to communities, Operation Smile is primed to deliver timely service and safe surgery where its needed most.

To facilitate even greater access to quality cleft care, Operation Smile Philippines is establishing a new comprehensive care center in Cebu. Approximately 2000sqm, this center will be the organization’s largest and aims to cater to 10,000 patients within the next 3-5 years.

Alongside the creation of comprehensive care centers across the country, Operation Smile Philippines has continued investments in local district hospitals to enhance the delivery of surgical care and positively impact public health.

Recent initiatives include the renovation of the surgical unit of the Santa Ana Hospital with the goal to provide 1000 new surgeries a year. In partnership with the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, Operation Smile Philippines also aims to develop the first registry to record cleft births for faster intervention, as well as training programs to educate both medical professionals and mothers on cleft conditions and life-saving skills to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.

Strength in numbers

These achievements and ongoing initiatives are the product of an expanded network of key partnerships forged under the common goal of increasing access to oral care.

Alongside partner hospitals that aid in the creation of cleft care centers and the hosting of surgical programs, donors such as Watson’s Philippines have been instrumental in making treatments possible. Beyond the provision of care, partners such as the Philippine National Police and AirAsia have greatly improved patient recruitment, including case-finding and transportation. To improve the quality of cleft care, since 1997, Johnson & Johnson Philippines Inc. has funded the training and development of experts in plastic surgery, dentistry, speech therapy and other fields to drive wider access to quality treatment and patient support.

“Through our medical expertise, partnerships and stakeholder activations, we are taking steps towards a future to change not only how surgeries are delivered across the country, but also to empower local health systems to provide even better care for the communities they serve,” said Emiliano Romano, Executive Director of Operation Smile Philippines.