One of the qualities that has always made Alliance for Smiles unique is our commitment to sustainability by providing the long-term, multi-dimensional care that cleft patients require, and by training local medical professionals to deliver this care after we have left the country.
Though it is not safe to perform in-person medical missions during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to continue providing services, and stay true to our mission, by offering virtual and on-line training through our newly developed Virtual Education Initiative (VEI).
When we realized that it would not be possible to resume standard missions in the near future, we immediately reached out to our international partners to gauge their interest in virtual education, and the vast majority responded positively. We then recruited AfS expert leads in relevant disciplines and conducted needs assessments among the hospitals to determine what would benefit them most. Training in nursing care came up right away as both an area in high demand from our partners and one that would work well within this format. Our partner hospitals in Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Honduras were immediately interested. Therefore we began the process of translating presentations into the appropriate languages and recruiting teachers who were fluent.
In September 2020, we presented our first VEI nursing class to our partners at Shaheed Monsur Ali Medical College in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Then, on in September we presented a joint class to nurses at Hilario Galindo Hospital in Retalhuleu, Guatemala, and Gabriela Alvarado Hospital in Danlí, Honduras. From the feedback and evaluations received, both presentations were incredibly successful, and we have continued the trainings at these locations.
Another hospital that showed great interest in this program is Central University Hospital of Brazzaville in Republic of the Congo. In addition to offering nursing seminars at this location, we are currently developing a consultation program where AfS surgeons and anesthesiologists can consult with local medical teams on complex cases. One of the difficulties we encountered at the start of this program was a lack of sufficiently strong internet in Congo, which is required to collaborate effectively. To overcome this obstacle, we purchased equipment to provide reliable WiFi at the hospital. The cost was relatively insignificant by our standards but made a world of difference to their team!
As we continue to develop the VEI, we have discovered an unexpected bonus: we see great potential in continuing this program even after international travel resumes. It will not only help to build a strong foundation of knowledge before an in-person medical mission begins, but it will also help establish deeper trust and connection between our teams – leading to a more efficient and effective mission once we are on the ground.
We are very excited to continue to develop this groundbreaking program!