Alexander Gross on taking the long view

Our Chairman of the Board Alexander Gross wrote this text for our sponsor Sternstunden. It was first published on the Sternstunden website here.

Every month, project sponsors write about a specific topic. In June, Alexander Gross from Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe e.V. thinks about long-term and sustainable help.

Our help for children with the congenital deformity of cleft lip and palate has always been based on local medical teams and their local networks of relationships. This means that we build and use local structures to provide high-quality, cost-effective and, if possible, comprehensive care to affected children. Our aid projects are led by experienced surgeons who are usually financially independent because they live off privately paying patients. For them, helping children with clefts is, in addition to the surgical challenge, a way of giving something back to the poor people in their society.

At work in Cochabamba: Dr. Eligio Arcienega Llano (last row) from our Bolivian partner organization Ayninakuna with his team.

Keep at it! The importance of long term help

There are other advantages to working only with locals instead of regularly sending German or international medical teams. The local specialists know the needs and worries of the locals best. They speak their language and are in contact with the families affected. An informative conversation with a mother can be just as important for the recovery and as normal a child with a cleft grows up as the operation itself. After all, overcoming a cleft is a process that takes many years and usually involves several operations and other medical and therapeutic measures. This includes monitoring and improving food intake, hearing and speaking, as well as medical support for the development of the jaw and teeth.

This comprehensive treatment of cleft lip and palate patients shows the great importance of long-term and sustainable support for self-help. Only long-term cooperation with local partners can overcome the inadequate structural conditions in a country. How else can we enable orthodontic measures when orthodontics as a discipline is non-existent or barely existent in a country like Vietnam? How can we offer speech therapy measures when there are no suitably qualified therapists in a country or region?

In many countries we can now offer our patients therapies such as speech or psychotherapy after their surgery.

Today, 26 percent of our financial aid supports non-surgery medical and therapeutic services. In 2023, for example, we treated some 1,300 cleft palate patients medically and therapeutically without further surgery. Our partners performed more than 8,000 cleft palate operations. Through persuasion, further training and competent project managers on site, we have been able to achieve a lot in India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Peru and Bolivia over the last ten years. We are able to provide comprehensive care for more and more affected children there. Providing long-term and permanent help pays off.

Alexander Gross is Chairman of the Board of Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe e.V. (© Photo: Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe e.V.)

Info: Sternstunden is a charity event with Bayerischer Rundfunk. It is supported by Bayerische Landesbank, the Sparkassenverband Bayern, the LBS Landesbausparkasse Süd and the Versicherungskammer Bayern.