Scenes of Hope: Madagascar Medical Missions

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Patients and their family members wait for their consultations with Operation Smile medical volunteers on screening day during the April 2018 medical mission in Antsirabe, Madagascar. This mission was one of four medical missions that Operation Smile conducted simultaneously to mark the 10-year anniversary of its work in the country. Across the four sites, which also included Tamatave, Majunga and Antananarivo, 650 potential patients were screened to determine whether or not they were healthy enough to receive surgery during these missions. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Nine-month-old Larissa was one of the more than 200 patients who received a comprehensive health evaluation at the Antsirabe mission site. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Anaesthesiologist Dr. Laura Bertini of Italy checks the vital signs of 4-year-old Brunel. This information provides a baseline of knowledge for anaesthesiologists to make sure that a patient is healthy enough to be put under anaesthesia. It can also reveal underlying conditions that would make surgery unsafe to perform during the mission. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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At the Antsirabe patient village, Brunel shares a smile with her father, Armand, after Operation Smile medical volunteers determined that she is healthy enough to receive surgery. Armand shared that some of Brunel’s kindergarten classmates call her, “sima,” which is a derogatory term for “cleft” in the local language of Malagasy. Hopeful for a brighter future for his daughter, he said, “I dream that after surgery, she’ll go to school and be like any other child.” Photo: Laura Gonzalez.


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Mr. Fidelis, pictured here in the centre holding a baby, poses with some of the 42 patients and their family members that he has helped bring to Operation Smile’s care in Madagascar as a patient advocate. Inspired by the life-changing surgery the organiSation made possible for his son, Tsilavina, Mr. Fidelis made it his mission to help families affected by cleft by introducing them to Operation Smile, building their trust and personally escorting them to medical mission sites so that their children can receive free and safe surgical care. When asked about his motivation to volunteer, he said, “I know that I have my own problems to take care of, but I have to leave them behind … It is the duty of people who are healthy to help people who are sick.” T Photo. Rohanna Mertens.

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Patient announcement day has arrived in Antsirabe, and 8-month-old Suhurah is all smiles as she waits with her mother to find out if she was chosen for surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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After living with his cleft lip for 11 years, Jean Rolland is happy to learn that he was selected for surgery during the Antsirabe mission. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Five-year-old Genevieve waits with her father to learn whether or not she will receive surgery during the Antsirabe mission. With patient safety as Operation Smile’s top priority, many patients and families have to be dealt the crushing news that they have not been selected for surgery due to the results of their comprehensive health evaluations. In Madagascar, the Operation Smile medical volunteers provide one-on-one consultations with each family to explain why surgery was possible this time around, followed by instructions and support – such as the feeding program for malnourished and underweight children – designed to increase their chances of being selected for surgery in the future. An added measure of emotional support is offered through “the compassion booth,” where these families talk to a fellow Malagasy mother who has been through the same challenges, emphasisng the importance of persevering until their children receive the surgery they deserve. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.



The infectious energy and bright personalities of sisters Jessica, 10, and Roza, 9, sparked smiles across the Majunga mission site. Accompanied by their father, the sisters travelled 750 kilometres by car for their chances to receive cleft lip surgeries. Their parents are cassava farmers and the girls help around the house and in the fields. For a short time, they attended school, but they stopped going to avoid being bullied. As infants, they were turned away from surgery at a local clinic, and it wasn't until the family saw a poster for this Operation Smile mission that they began to have hope once again. Photo: Drea Meyer.

The story continues in “Scenes of Healing: Madagascar Medical Missions.” 

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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President