A nonprofit addresses health equity by providing safer surgeries



Susannah Schaefer, Executive Vice President, President and CEO Smile Train

As the global health community considers how to create health care systems that work for everyone – including the most vulnerable among us – a topic that is widely debated is health justice. Health justice means that everyone has the opportunity to realize their full health potential, and in particular to ensure that the social circumstances of the individual do not prevent him from doing so.

We have recently, unfortunately, seen through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic how social inequalities can create a disproportionate impact on different populations due to the unequal distribution of resources. Even in the U.S., recent research has shown that “your zip code may have more weight on your potential health outcomes than your genetic code, due to differences between low- and high-income populations, including access to care”.

For more than 20 years, Smile Train, a cleft-focused nonprofit, has focused on improving health equity around the world by offering those born with cleft lip and palate access to safe, quality cleft treatment and comprehensive care in more than 85 countries. We are advancing a sustainable solution and a scalable global health model for treating clefts, drastically improving children’s lives, including their ability to eat, breathe, speak, and ultimately thrive. Instead of doctors flying to regions with low resources to perform cleft surgery, we provide funding and infrastructure so that our medical partners can provide quality surgery, dental care, speech therapy and more, further providing care and strengthening local system health.

We believe we all have a voice in this conversation and a role we can play. Every day, we see first-hand the power to dedicate adequate resources to make access to better health care more equitable globally. Through our work, we have proven that technology and the creation of like-minded partnerships are striking ways to promote health equality, with results that can drive more innovation and action by our global communities.

Technology is a key factor with unlimited potential to improve health equity, build health care capacity, and improve outcomes. For example, worldwide, the lack of access to ongoing surgical training threatens the quality of surgical outcomes and the availability of life-saving care. These challenges only increased during the pandemic as traditional training and care became almost impossible in many regions. Smile Train, along with its Medical Advisory Board, has dedicated research to researching ways to improve available virtual training options and provide what is essentially a “state-of-the-art textbook” through virtual tools such as our virtual surgical simulator and other free resources for surgeons. in low-resource countries around the world.

Telemedicine can also bring long-term health improvements as service providers can reach more people, especially in remote regions or where patients avoid care for fear of stigma. During the pandemic, even while some surgeries were on hold, Smile Train’s health partners were able to provide thousands of hours of critical care, including speech therapy and nutritional support through telemedicine.

It is estimated that two-thirds of children worldwide do not have access to safe surgical care. In 2020, Smile Train also partnered with the Kids Operating Room to supply new state-of-the-art operating theaters across Africa and provide essential surgical care that saves the lives of thousands of children within the first year. Through this strong partnership, we have been able to respond directly to the critical importance of providing safer surgery to further reduce health disparities.

While the social determinants of health – defined by the World Health Organization as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and grow old” – directly affect the health outcomes of many individuals, we at Smile Train know that we can all work together to make a world. a healthier, happier and fairer place.

Susannah (Susie) Schaefer is the Executive Vice President, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Smile Train, the world’s largest cleavage-oriented organization with a sustainable and local model of support for operations and other forms of comprehensive cleavage care. In her role as president and CEO, she oversees Smile Train’s vision to expand access to health care and increase local capacity to care for clefts in countries where Smile Train has active programs.

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