Every year, a group of medical volunteers fly out to Ethiopia to provide life-changing surgery for 30-50 patients with complex facial disfigurements. The conditions treated on the mission range from trauma injuries such as animal attacks and burns to large tumours and a rare facial gangrene called Noma. Ethiopia has a developing health system, which unfortunately means the surgical equipment and knowledge base to treat patients with conditions so complex is often unavailable. Project Harar medical volunteers work with Yekatit 12 Government Hospital in Addis Ababa to collaborate on treating these complex conditions.
Patients who are treated on the complex surgical mission are from the poorest and most remote areas of Ethiopia. Rural communities are often miles away from a health facility and for families in these areas would mean at least a days walk on foot. Subsequently, there is a lack of awareness in communities that treatment is available for complex disfigurement, it also means that all problems, such as tumours can escalate hugely because of limited health monitoring. Families in rural Ethiopia often encounter food shortage, due to environmental and financial implications, this can escalate complex conditions such as Noma, a rare facial gangrene which can be caused from malnutrition. There is also huge stigma against facial difference in rural communities, individuals are often excluded from their communities and the subject of bullying. Strong religious belief can lead some communities to believe the facial difference is a punishment and subsequently individuals are hidden away from their communities. Some complex facial disfigurements are life threatening and the majority cause pain, discomfort and problems with eating, drinking, breathing and speaking.
Throughout the year, Project Harar's outreach team proactively engage with rural communities to identify individuals with complex facial disfigurements. This involves travelling far and wide in often difficult-to-reach areas.
The surgical mission begins with two weeks of pre-surgery assessments, two weeks of surgery and up to two months of recovery. Around 60 potential patients arrive in February for pre-surgery assessment in Addis Ababa. During this stage of the mission our patients received initial assessments from a team of doctors, nurses and dietitians to assess suitability for surgery. Full medical histories, tests, scans, and oral hygiene investigations as well as nutritional assessment are carried out.
After an initial two weeks of assessments a larger medical team arrive in Addis Ababa and an intense two-week operative stage takes place. The team comprises surgeons, doctors, nurses, dietitions and anaesthetists, the majority work in the NHS in the UK, but we are proud to have medical volunteers from all over the world, including France, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong and Ireland.
Post-surgery, patients recover at Cheshire Services, just north of Addis, where they receive support from nurses and doctors before they are discharged. The care at Cheshire ensures patients stay infection free and recover properly from their surgery before returning home. But it’s also an opportunity for our patients to relax and play.
Volunteer on our annual complex mission