[Surgery of congenital malformations in developing countries: experience in 13 humanitarian missions during 9 years]

S d'Agostino, C Del Rossi, S Del Curto, A Attanasio, S Fontichiari, L Barro
La Pediatria Medica e Chirurgica: Medical and Surgical Pediatrics 2001, 23 (2): 117-21
The authors report their surgical experience concerning seriously impaired children due to congenital malformations or other non-congenital anomalies such as burns and traumas. All the patients were operated in one of 13 humanitarian missions undertaken in four developing countries. Throughout the "Third World" the demand for reconstructive surgery is extremely high due to the high birth rate and consequently large number of patients, as well as the shortage of both medical staff and supplies. In developing countries Primary Health Care has always been considered a priority and so hospitals, which are used mainly for emergency operations, are usually few in number and badly equipped; elective surgery is considered a luxury. Children with congenital diseases and/or other non-congenital anomalies who are fortunate enough to reach a hospital will often be treated by general surgeons lacking specific training; those children suffering from disabling conditions are often neglected and left to live with their anomalies for the rest of their lives. Our surgical missions have always been undertaken at the request of Catholic missionaries and/or secular organizations which contribute to the individual health schemes of each country. Highly experienced volunteer staff took part in the missions; medical teams are made up of 2 surgeons, one or two anaesthetists and two scrub nurses. The assistance and cooperation of local medical staff was essential in the preselection of cases to be operated while each single medical team provided all the necessary supplies for surgery, which took place in small but well-equipped missionary hospitals provided by the local authorities. A total of 1140 children were operated on during the 13 missions: 32% of these had routine procedures performed in day surgery and 54% underwent major plastic and reconstructive surgery for facial, uro-genital and anorectal malformations or for serious consequences of burns or traumas. The proportion of emergencies was only 3% as these were normally excluded because of the short duration of the missions. 26 patients had to be reoperated as a result of complications or surgical failure and long-term follow-up provided by either the local staff or as a part of later missions was given in over 70% of the major surgery performed. On the whole, the surgical results were highly satisfactory even if a final evaluation should be made taking the cultural factors and the socio-environmental conditions of each individual country into consideration. Such an evaluation should most importantly be made on the basis of the well-being of the patient, general satisfaction of the families involved and improved quality of life of these children.

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