The children we work for and their families are among the poorest of the poor. The pandemic is particularly hard on those who had been fighting to survive even before Corona. Because of the lockdowns, they can no longer make a living. Living in confined spaces and under poor conditions, they are more or less inevitably exposed to the virus. We hope that the measures taken will work and prevent the virus from spreading too widely, which would have catastrophic consequences in almost all of our project countries.
Our project countries have currently stopped operations for several weeks. We are in regular contact with our partners on site. Together we are working on solutions to this difficult situation, so that we can begin operating again as soon as possible. Our little patients need us even more than before now. Many cleft children suffer from malnutrition. Their immune systems are weak and an infection with the corona virus can thus be particularly dangerous for them. We want to continue to support these children and their families.
Our doctors in the project countries are currently getting many calls from concerned parents who are very worried that their children will not be able to get their surgery because of Corona. We are of course working to ensure that we can resume our work as soon as at all possible, and treat not only the patients newly born in the meantime, but also those whose surgery we’ve had to postpone due to the epidemic.
Vietnam has managed to stop the spread of the corona virus with a strict two and a half month lockdown, which ended three weeks ago. Ever since, our partner organization OSCA in Hanoi has again been treating cleft patients under the leadership of the experienced surgeon Dr. Ai. Chi is one of the little patients. Her surgery had been scheduled for April and had to be postponed indefinitely because of the lockdown. Her parents were very concerned that their daughter might not be able to receive treatment at all. They are all the happier now that things went so quickly after all, and that Chi’s procedure went well. Dr. Ai was able to operate 15 children in the past three weeks. Usually there are a maximum of ten patients per month, but the lockdown created a backlog of waiting patients. Currently, 40 children are still on the waiting list and will receive their treatment as soon as possible.
Crises demand and promote creativity. The best example of this is our longstanding partner, Dr. Zaman. In his hometown Dhaka, the surgeon started a private relief campaign, financed by donations from his international circle of friends and acquaintances.
The country has been in a total lockdown since March 26, and the number of cases is increasing daily. Countless people from all walks of life have suddenly become unemployed. This affects the poor particularly hard: they have no more money to support their families. To help these people, Dr. Zaman has sprung into action. In his garage, volunteers help pack food for the needy. This includes: rice, lentils, eggs, onions, potatoes and cooking oil. 1,200 families have already been able to receive this aid from Dr. Zaman! He intends to continue this work, since an improvement in the situation in Bangladesh is currently not foreseeable.
The corona crisis hits poor countries especially hard. Their already limited medical infrastructure is quickly overwhelmed. This is the case, for example, in Bangladesh, one of our main project countries. Our longstanding partner surgeon Dr. Zaman reports on the current situation:
“The lockdown was extended until May 16, with many new cases being reported every day, especially many from the capital Dhaka and also from Narayanganj. The number of unreported cases is high because we have far too few tests. And no staff, no laboratories to carry out the tests, not enough ventilators and not enough protective equipment for the medical workers who are in great danger as they help the infected. Lockdown is a terrible situation for poor families: to protect themselves from the virus, they would have to stay at home . But that means no income, no food. So many people in Bangladesh are now hungry. What is particularly hard on me is that I cannot help my patients. They cannot get their scheduled operations. There is no public transport, the few hospitals are overcrowded with Covid 19 patients. I can only listen to their concerns on the phone.”
“It is good to know that there are people who think of us in this difficult time. I would like to thank Dr. Ulrike Lamlé from the bottom of my heart for the FFP2 protective masks for our teams. A big thank you also to Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe and the many donors from Germany. Thank you for not forgetting us. The children need our help now more than ever! “
Dr. Zaman, pictured with Dr. Ulrike Lamlé, our volunteer project manager Bangladesh
In six of our Indian cleft centers, we are able to offer our patients speech and functional therapy. The chief therapist is Lakshmi Godavarthi from Visakhapatnam. By video, she instructs her colleagues how speech therapy can continue despite social distancing. The involvement and participation of parents play an important role in this. If they have access to the Internet, therapy sessions with the children are possible via Skype, Zoom, or WhatsApp. That is the most convenient option. If this is not possible, the parents are given an audio call to show them how to do exercises with their children at home. Getting the information across is not always easy because many of our patients’ parents cannot read or write.
In this video, Lakshmi shows her colleagues how to communicate with parents so that the children’s therapy does not completely come to a halt:
The lockdown in India is entering its second phase and will be extended until May 3 for now. This has dramatic consequences for our cleft children, the majority of whom live in great poverty. Many families currently cannot work and thus support the basic needs of their families. “Social Distancing” is hardly possible when entire families live in a single room, poor hygienic conditions pose an additional danger. Our local doctors try to keep in touch with their patients via online media. The team in Kolkata discusses upcoming operations or follow-up therapies with the parents of their little patients via WhatsApp video.
Our lead speech therapist Lakshmi from Visakhapatnam conducts online speech therapy sessions with some of her patients and exchanges experiences with her colleagues from other Indian treatment centers.