Cambodia: Rebuilding Lives Through Surgery

Doctors of the World created Opération Sourire to provide surgical treatment to those with congenital diseases such as cleft lips and cleft palates.

In Cambodia, accessing healthcare is often expensive and many of the population cannot afford it

This is especially true if a member of your family or your child has a congenital disease such as a cleft lip or cleft palate deformity. Many Cambodians suffering with congenital diseases or scarring injuries simply cannot afford to receive treatment, or live in locations where medical treatment is unavailable.

For nearly 30 years, Doctors of the World volunteer surgeons working on Opération Sourire have travelled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia twice a year in order to perform free reconstructive surgery to help patients live both healthy and productive lives.

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Under the shaded canopy of the Phnom Penh Children’s Surgical Center (CSC), the two benches provided for patients are never enough. Access to free healthcare such as surgery is rare in Cambodia, and the crowds of young children, women, men and adolescents waiting to see our surgical team often spill into adjoining gardens.

Consultations begin at 8am and the main issues our teams see are cleft lips, cleft palates, hare beaks, tumors, injuries such as burns and Noma disease. “Patients come for physical problems but also aesthetic concerns that hinder them in their daily lives,” says Frédéric Lauwers, Head of Maxillofacial and Plastic Surgery at the University Hospital of Toulouse and Doctors of the World volunteer. “We try to limit interventions to decrease the risks of complications, and to allow the surgeries time to heal.”

“Patients come for physical problems but also aesthetic concerns that hinder them in their daily lives” – Frédéric Lauwers, Head of Maxillofacial and Plastic Surgery at the University Hospital of Toulouse

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In the decades since Opération Sourire’s beginnings, the project has changed and evolved over time. Many Cambodian surgeons and health staff have been trained by our teams, providing them with the valuable skills needed to carry out reconstructive surgeries. “At first we saw a lot of labio-palatal clefts. Today, CSC surgeons are able to operate on them all year round, “says Frédéric Lauwers. Doctors of the World also provides the center with between 150 to 200 pounds of vital equipment and supplies on each visit. 

During Opération Sourire’s 25 years of work, 13,000 patients have received reconstructive surgery in Cambodia and elsewhere