Humanitarian Travel Grant: Medical Mission in Phnom Phen, Cambodia
In January 2020, a team of volunteers from Northwest Medical Volunteers and Face to Face traveled to Phnom Phen, Cambodia, to provide care to patients with congenital, traumatic, and neoplastic face deformities.
Jonnae Y. Ostrom, MD and Sarah R. Akkina, MD, MS
In January 2020, a team of volunteers from Northwest Medical Volunteers and Face to Face traveled to Phnom Phen, Cambodia, to provide care to patients with congenital, traumatic, and neoplastic face deformities. This mission has been ongoing since 2006 when it was started by Seattle otolaryngologist Craig S. Murakami, MD, and Cambodian plastic surgeon Theavy Mok, MD. Since then, groups of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and child life specialists have traveled to Cambodia annually to serve the Khmer people. The focus of these humanitarian missions is to provide care in the form of microtia repair, cleft lip and palate repair, complex facial reconstruction, and head and neck cancer surgeries that would otherwise not be available. During this specific mission, a record 149 patients were screened, which resulted in 11 microtia repairs and various other reconstructive surgeries over the course of a week.
In addition to helping patients who would otherwise not have access to such procedures, volunteers work closely with local physicians and residents from the Cambodian medical schools. After the reign of the Khmer Rouge ended in 1979, only 29 physicians remained in the entire country. Because of this there was not only a paucity of physicians to care for patients, but a severe shortage of medical educators to help train the next generation of physicians. A significant goal of the mission trip is to bridge this gap by providing lectures, conducting one-on-one teaching, and operating side-by-side with Cambodian medical students and physicians. The mission’s goal is to enable them to safely and confidently perform such procedures independently over time.
The annual mission to Cambodia is truly one of the highlights of the year for all involved. Patients come from all over Cambodia and sometimes wait for days to be evaluated for a potential surgery. The Soviet Friendship Hospital becomes their home while they wait for their operations and recover before starting the journey home. Historically, the mission has been completed once per year, but the number of patients presenting for evaluation continues to rise. Northwest Medical Volunteers, therefore, hopes to increase the frequency of their trips to Cambodia in the future to further offset the reconstructive needs of the Khmer people.