Effectiveness of international surgical program model to build local sustainability

Plast Surg Int. 2012:2012:185725. doi: 10.1155/2012/185725. Epub 2012 Oct 22.

Abstract

Background. Humanitarian medical missions may be an effective way to temporarily overcome limitations and promote long-term solutions in the local health care system. Operation Smile, an international medical not-for-profit organization that provides surgery for patients with cleft lip and palate, not only provides surgery through short-term international missions but also focuses on developing local capacity. Methods. The history of Operation Smile was evaluated globally, and then on a local level in 3 countries: Colombia, Bolivia, and Ethiopia. Historical data was assessed by two-pronged success of (1) treating the surgical need presented by cleft patients and (2) advancing the local capacity to provide primary and ongoing care to patients. Results. The number of patients treated by Operation Smile has continually increased. Though it began by using only international teams to provide care, by 2012, this had shifted to 33% of patients being treated by international teams, while the other 67% received treatment from local models of care. The highest level of sustainability was achieved in Columbia, where two permanent centers have been established, followed by Bolivia and lastly Ethiopia. Conclusions. International missions have value because of the patients that receive surgery and the local sustainable models of care that they promote.