As the COVID 19 cloud hung over the world, Surgical Centre Smile Train Mbarara (SCSTM) in Uganda was still restoring as many smiles as possible. As from March 20th until March 31st 2020, their schedule hoped to cover Lira Referral Hospital, Kiryandongo Referral Hospital, Kikuube Health Centre IV, Fort Portal Referral Hospital and Bikira Health Centre IV Hospital.
The surgeries kicked off on Saturday 21st till the 23rd at Lira to treat 35 patients waiting in line. Once all patients were treated, the team set off for the next stop.
On March 24th, the team led by Dr. Sr. Najjuka Justina began to treat 5 patients at Kiryandongo Referral Hospital, cautiously optimistic that their beginner’s luck would follow through till they completed the circuit. This was not to be. A phone call from their social worker in Kikuube Hospital, Hoima carried news that the administration of the hospital had stopped all major, crowding activities in the hospital for fear of spreading and contracting the deadly Coronavirus. The team felt helpless.
Dr. Najjuka later called Fort Portal Hospital who gave the team some hope that surgeries could be carried out in the hospital, but this too was shattered on the eve of starting the surgeries. An emergency meeting had been held late the previous evening and a decision to halt major hospital activities except emergencies was reached. The team was gutted, wondering how to care for the 20 patients who had high hopes of a fresh face before the Easter Festivities.
The team quickly put their heads together and decided to find an alternative hospital facility to enable them to carry out the surgeries.
“The nearest receptive center was Surgical Centre Mbarara which was a 3-hour journey covering 180km. Cautious to ensure we followed the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization protocols of social distancing, our next best option of ferrying the patients was to use ambulances,” said Dr. Najjuka.
On Thursday 26th March, all the 20 patients were operated and sent home the following day using the same ambulances that had brought them.
“For me, the most uplifting part of this experience is that they were home safe, smiling,” said Dr. Najjuka.
To slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Uganda, President Museveni imposed a curfew for the whole country which started from March 31, 2020 at 7pm.
Since January, when COVID-19 was first identified, Smile Train global teams have been monitoring the outbreak and its impact on the international communities we serve and support, along with our local medical partners and Smile Train team members in the field.
During these uncertain times, every three minutes, another baby is born with a cleft. Smile Train’s unique, sustainable model of empowering local medical professionals allows regional partners to remain on the ground, providing needed care in their communities—including cleft care—where it is medically advisable to do so. For the safety of Smile Train partners and patients Smile Train has temporarily postponed surgeries in regions where it is not currently advisable to continue. The needs of every region and every medical partner are different, but they share an unwavering commitment to providing life-saving cleft surgeries.