In 2019, Angola became the 38th African country with Smile Train-supported cleft treatment programs when Dr. Preciosa Ntyoke Bento set up the first cleft program at Centro Evangelico de Medicina deoLubango (CEML) in Lubango. This also made her the country’s first Smile Train Program Manager. She spoke with us recently about the dire need for expanding both cleft treatment and awareness in Angola’s healthcare systems, how the country is responding to COVID-19, and much more.
Before joining Smile Train, where did you work?
I was a volunteer at two hospitals. One is in Toco, at a small hospital that gives free care and treatment to the local community. The other is Palanca CEML, a private clinic where they allowed me to learn from foreign doctors as well as attend to their patients.
How did you first encounter Smile Train?
I heard about Smile Train from a doctor at CEML, where I was a volunteer at the time. He showed me Smile Train’s website, and I was amazed by their vision of providing free cleft treatment to all.
Why are you keen on research in anesthesia?
The privilege of reading and applying research fascinates me because it gives light to important subjects such as anesthesia that are unexplored in my country. I feel very inspired to create a great connection with the surgical team because it prioritizes the care of the patient.
How can anesthetists be more empowered in Angola?
Anesthetists can be more supported in various areas, especially in their access to education. They also need better materials and devices for facilitating their work and applying better care for the patients.
Since joining Smile Train in November 2019, how many patients have you encountered and how does it reflect on the need for cleft treatment in Angola?
I have met more than 100 patients; the need is real. There is no specific cleft treatment care center here and patients are hidden all over the country. I am glad we now have a partner in CEML Lubango.
As a medical doctor, how can health systems in Angola be strengthened to ensure that neglected surgical needs are addressed?
I believe there is need for investment in our local health workers and in making the materials needed for patient care available to all.
COVID-19 has influenced how healthcare can be administered in the future. What are some of the challenges that the Ministry of Health is experiencing in your country, and what resources are available to healthcare workers to address these challenges?
The pandemic has brought about a lot of challenges, especially because of the high-mortality diseases that we have already in our country. Adjusting to all these challenges in a time like this requires a new plan and protocols because of our limited resources.
Any last words?
It is good to be part of Smile Train, a charity that stands up for people with clefts — people who have not been prioritized in our healthcare system.