Traditional international efforts to repair cleft lips and palates have consisted of small teams that perform surgical procedures to correct defects. However, the initial surgery only addresses one part of the problem. Cleft patients require ongoing treatment in the disciplines of dentistry, orthodontia, speech therapy and sometimes psychological counseling. Time and funding constraints typically make it impossible to address those needs. Even if information, expertise and treatment were available, it would pose an impossible financial burden to the families of our target population, whose budgets are already strained by their basic daily needs for food and shelter.
Our multi-pronged approach and long-range model distinguish us from traditional international surgical teams in several ways:
- To respond to the immediate need, we conduct two week surgical missions.
- We provide advanced training for local health care providers who are dedicated to the treatment of under-served cleft lip and palate patients.
- We establish permanent treatment centers where patients can receive follow-up and ongoing care, utilizing the same treatment protocols used in the United States. Eventually, the centers will be owned and operated by the communities that they serve.
- In April 2007 we opened our first treatment center in Jiujiang, China.
- In November of 2009 we opened our second treatment center in Wenzhou, China.
- In November of 2011 we opened our third treatment center in Harbin, China.
- In September of 2013 we opened our fourth treatment center in Zunyi, China.
- In September of 2014 we opened our fifth treatment center in Guiyang, China.
We will focus our efforts on the education of health care providers in the disciplines of surgery, dentistry, dental hygiene, orthodontia and speech therapy. It is our goal that within three to 5 years, the centers will no longer need regular visiting teams, except for specialists sent to address education issues and assist with the most difficult cases. However, AfS will continue to send medical teams to work in conjunction with the local medical professionals until we are confident that the center can sustain itself. We will monitor the quality of care and program activities through a shared patient database.