By Sarah Scarth, Executive Director of Operation Smile South Africa


In October, Operation Smile South Africa successfully delivered a weekend surgical programme at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape.

Over four days, our wonderful volunteer team of plastic surgeons, anaesthetists, a paediatrician, nurses, dentists, speech therapists, psychosocial therapist and medical records experts teamed up with the amazing hospital team to help 22 children and one young adult with clefts receive life-changing surgery.

Surgical Programme Preparation

Preparing for a surgical programme takes a huge amount of work. Everything complies to Operation Smile’s global medical standards. This ensures that, wherever in the world the surgery takes place, it is to the highest standards with patient safety the top priority.

Surgeries began early on Saturday morning after pre-screening on Friday, during which patients were assessed by each medical discipline. By Sunday afternoon, 23 surgeries had been successfully completed. All patients were safely discharged by the following Thursday.

But the impact of the weekend is not just measured in lives transformed through surgery. We also helped heal mothers’ hearts. Two year old Melokuhle Mredlana was born during Covid with a unilateral cleft lip and palate. But mother, Anele, received little support at the time.

Anele’s story

Anele and Melokuhle“When my baby was born, the doctors and nurses did not say anything to me,” explained Anele.

“I left the hospital without any knowledge. I was sad and could not understand what was happening to the baby. Watching milk coming out of his nostrils during feeding was a traumatic experience.”

Her family was equally shocked and could not help take care of the baby. Community members asked Anele what she had done to the baby  … did she drop it on the floor?

“When I arrived at the hospital, I was very happy to see that it is not only my child with a cleft. My child was the only one with a cleft in my community. But I’ve learned that there are other children in other parts of the province with the same condition. I am so grateful to Operation Smile and hope they will continue to support patients with clefts and create more awareness in our community.”

Surgical programme provides education and training

Fourteen doctors and 13 nurses from Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital enthusiastically gave up their weekend to be part of the programme. It provides a wonderful opportunity for education and training.

“We are better doctors after the programme than before,” said Dr Anele Tshambu. “Thanks to the immense learning we gained from the Operation Smile team.”

During the weekend, we welcomed a visit by the Eastern Cape DOH MEC Nomakhosazana Meth, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyana and Mthatha Executive Mayor, Cllr Goodman Ngqondwana. On Monday 25 October 2023, we signed a three-year MOU with the Eastern Cape Department of Health, which will see us work together to advance and support cleft care in the province.

Our deep and sincere thanks to our partners, volunteers, donors and supporters who helped us heal lives through new smiles. Planning is well underway for our next surgical programme in early 2023.

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