Providing a free and safe surgery to repair a cleft lip in a developing nation can prove complicated. Using a fully equipped hospital ship can overcome many of the logistical obstacles and also helps local surgeons and other medical professionals get a taste of what their own hospitals could be capable of, with some improvements in training and infrastructure.
However there are other problems faced by our patients that need creative solutions. One of them is the fact that many cleft lip babies, as well as others, arrive at the ship severely undernourished and may have to spend months on the special feeding program, run by resident dietician & nutritionist Jillian Davis, to bring their weight up to a safe level for them to receive surgery.
Another problem which affects those patients in developing nations who did not receive a surgery when they were babies, and we even see grandparents with cleft lips, is the fact that they often need speech therapy to help them speak properly once the cleft has been surgically closed. So in Madagascar like in many other places the crew have trained locals like Lily to help provide speech therapy to the local patients and help them to speak clearly once they have recovered from their surgery.
Lily is one of the hundreds of local workers employed by the ship to work alongside the volunteer crew from 30-40 different countries and help from people from her own nation. As Lily speaks Malagasy she works alongside our crew to provide the speech therapy classes. It would take too long for our speech therapist to learn the local language well enough to help the patients without Lily.
Employing local workers also has many other advantages:
1) The extra hands allow the ship to provide help for more people in less time.
2) The training provided to the local workers can allow them help people long after the ship leaves.
3) Employing local workers provides some income for the local economy.
4) The local employees help our crew be more culturally sensitive and calm the fears of our patients.