Continuing promise 2009--assessment of a recent pediatric surgical humanitarian mission

J Pediatr Surg. 2012 Apr;47(4):652-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2011.09.063.


Purpose: Surgical organizations have begun to focus their efforts on providing humanitarian assistance in international communities. Most surgeons do not have previous international experience and lack an understanding of what is expected and what care they can provide. The unknown factors include case types, patient volume, postoperative care, and equipment. This abstract presents humanitarian assistance mission and highlights the importance of preparation, host nation involvement, and understanding the local politics of each country.

Methods: In April to July 2009, the USNS (United States Naval Ship) Comfort deployed to provide humanitarian assistance to 7 countries through Central and South America. Data collected included numbers and types of procedures, rate of rejection of patients for operation, patient age, American Society of Anesthesiology (ASA) score, and length of procedure.

Results: These data represent the total mission of Continuing Promise 2009 including a total of 1137 surgical procedures of which 340 were pediatric (<18 years old). The average number of pediatric cases for each country in 7 days was 48.3 ± 21.4, with a range of 24 to 84. The average age was 7.5 years (range, 1 month to 18 years). In partnership with host physicians, preoperative screening occurred over 2 to 3 days for every 7 operative days. We maintained a low threshold for rejection (rate of 43%; range, 21%-62%) and average ASA score of 1.3. Including all pediatric subspecialties, the most frequent procedures were inguinal (23%) and umbilical (14%) hernias. Although these were the most frequent procedure, the range and variety of cases varied widely. We had a very low early complication rate (1.2%), including 3 wound infections and 1 early hernia recurrence.

Conclusions: Our data represent the largest collection to date on the pediatric surgical care of children in a humanitarian effort. Our experience can be used to identify the most likely types of cases in South and Central America and as a model for the safe and efficient treatment of children in a developing country.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Central America
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Medical Missions / organization & administration*
  • Medical Missions / statistics & numerical data
  • Pediatrics*
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Program Evaluation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • South America
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / statistics & numerical data*
  • Treatment Refusal / statistics & numerical data
  • United States