Our 2019 Complex Surgical Mission took place in February and March.

Our annual mission provided outreach services to reach people with facial disfigurements in remote regions, pre-operative assessment, surgical treatment and post-operative care. Alongside our patient care we collaborated with local medical professionals at a government hospital in Addis Ababa. This year we provided surgery and care for 40 individuals with severe facial disfigurements.

Facial disfigurements disproportionately affect the poorest people in Ethiopia. This is partially due to the lack of availability of treatment in rural areas, the cost of accessing treatment and a lack of knowledge about treatment. Additionally, those with disfigurements find it difficult to perform the functions most of us take for granted, such as eating, breathing or talking – they also face great stigma and discrimination, and isolation. With the help from our UK and Ethiopian volunteers, we provide treatment for patients who cannot access the healthcare they desperately need.

Throughout the year, our outreach team proactively engages with rural communities and government health workers to find individuals with severe facial disfigurements. Patients come from far and wide areas across Ethiopia which are often difficult to reach.

The Complex Surgical Mission is split into three stages:

The Pre-op Stage

Two male surgeons in scrubs and hairnets and masks having a conversationAn international team of volunteer medical professionals arrived in Addis Ababa in late February. For two weeks, initial assessments were conducted on approximately 50 potential patients to assess their suitability for surgery – these include blood tests, x-rays, a full medical history and oral hygiene investigations. 

This year our focus was on improving their oral care and nutritional status before treatment. For the first time we had an oral hygienist who cleaned our patients mouths to prevent infections, particularly at the site of their facial disfigurement (which are often oral). Our hygienist also gave an oral hygiene session on brushing techniques and each patient was given a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Our nutritional team were also paramount to the success of the mission. Many patients are too underweight and weak to undergo surgery. For our 2019 mission, we wanted as many patients as possible to receive surgery and not be restricted by their nutritional status. This is why we recruited two UK registered dieticians - they carefully monitored our patients’ diets and provided them with high calorie, high protein vitamin shakes and a nutritious meal three times a day.

The Operative Stage

Once the pre-operative assessments had taken place and our patients were in good health, an intense two-week operative stage began. We operated on 40 patients with an international team from the UK, Brazil, Ethiopia, France, Hong Kong and the Netherlands. The conditions we saw this year ranged from small nasal defects and noma to giant facial tumours. The surgeries were all hugely successful, not only changing our patients aesthetically but improving their basic functions like eating and breathing.


After surgery, our patients recuperated at the Cheshire Rehabilitation Centre, just north of Addis, where they received support from nurses and doctors before they are discharged. Our aim was to ensure they stayed infection free and were fully recovered before they returned home. We also worked with an Ethiopian social worker who provided advice to our patients to help them boost their confidence and self-esteem so they can re-integrate back into society successfully. However, Cheshire is also an opportunity for our patients to relax and play together!

Without our intervention, most of our patients won't have access to this treatment or cannot afford it. One operation from our medical team has the potential to significantly alter their life prospects forever. We have found that 75% of patients became socially engaged and accepted back into their communities after surgery. Children return to school to lead happier, healthier lives.

Your support will help us provide life-changing surgery for the most marginalised people with facial disfigurements in future missions to Ethiopia. Together we can transform lives. Support our campaign 

Child with cleft lip being held by father both smiling at camera

Testimonials from our medical team

‘As nurses we often touch the lives of others, but it is truly special when the lives of others touch your heart. It is an imprint left for a lifetime’ – Nurse Abbie Cooper

‘Every year I continue to be motivated and inspired by the hard work and dedication shown by all members of the Project Harar and Ethiopian team’ – Doctor Calum Honeyman

‘I’ve been volunteering [with Project Harar] for 6 years and it has been the highlight of my nursing career and my life. It will enlighten and enhance the passion you have for nursing and make you realise the different ways of nursing. It has taught me so much about life’ – Nurse Raj Mashiana