News and Events

Rambam Doctors Perform Life-Changing Surgeries in Madagascar

Publication Date: 6/16/2024 9:00 AM

For over a decade, senior physicians from Rambam Health Care Campus (Rambam) in Haifa, Israel, have participated in special missions to treat cleft palate and tongue deformities in developing countries. Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing conflict, their dedication remains unwavering.

Physicians performing a procedure in Madagascar. Photography: Courtesy of Dr. Emodi. Map from Google Earth.
Physicians performing a procedure in Madagascar. Photography: Courtesy of Dr. Emodi. Map from Google Earth.

“Ethiopia, Vietnam, Ghana, and India—these are just a few of the many destinations we've reached over the past 12 years,” says Dr. Omri Emodi, Deputy Director of the Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at Rambam. He, together with Dr. Zach Sharony, a senior physician in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, recently returned from a mission in Madagascar, whose population is nearly 30 million, yet only five doctors on the entire island are skilled to perform such surgeries.

“Cleft palate and tongue deformities significantly impact eating, speaking, and appearance,” explains Dr. Emodi. “In countries like Israel, these conditions are often corrected in infancy, but in third-world countries, patients may wait years for surgery, making the procedures more complex.”

This marks the third mission to Madagascar for Drs. Emodi and Sharony. Traveling during Israel's current conflict was a difficult decision. ”We were concerned about what might happen if the situation escalated while we were away,” admits Dr. Emodi, whose son is serving in the reserves on Israel’s northern border. “But everything went smoothly in the end.”

This year they performed 117 surgeries in just 12 days. “We always examine more children than we can treat, often twice as many,” says Dr. Sharony. "In Madagascar alone, around 2,000 patients are still waiting for surgery."

The “Operation Smile” organization, which has been operating for 40 years in over 40 countries, facilitated this mission. “Each delegation includes about 50 team members from around the world, all volunteering for this vital cause,” notes Dr. Emodi. This time, the team set up in Antsirabe, Madagascar's third-largest city. “It’s 12 to 14 very intensive days,” he adds. “While we might do one or two surgeries a day in Israel, here we do four to six surgeries daily.”

Dr. Emodi was honored to lead the volunteer surgical team in Madagascar. “It was a surprising and emotional moment,” he says. The delegation included medical teams from countries like Sweden, Norway, the UAE, and South Africa. “We kept a positive spirit and focused on the shared goal of helping patients,” says Dr. Emodi. That camaraderie among volunteers is something incredibly special. “The people who come on these missions are truly remarkable,” Dr. Sharony shares. “Everyone focuses on the surgery and treatment, putting aside any political differences.”

That cooperative spirit is critical since the mission's success hinges on collaboration with local doctors. “Our relationship with the local team in Madagascar is especially close,” Dr. Sharony points out. “We assist them with medical equipment and offer advice even after we return to Israel.”

The working conditions in Madagascar were particularly challenging. While in Israel, the physicians were used to operating on one patient per room, now they were operating on three patients in one room with limited lighting. This meant working with three teams of at least 4–5 people per team.

Training local surgeons is another crucial aspect of their mission. “During the last mission, we trained another surgeon who can now start operating independently,” explains Dr. Sharony.

The impact of their work with Operation Smile is profound. “It's impossible to describe the satisfaction of a surgery that takes about an hour and a half but completely transforms a child's life,” says Dr. Sharony. Dr. Emodi concludes, “The reactions from the families are incredibly heartwarming.”

These missions not only provide critical medical care but also foster international goodwill and cooperation. The dedication of Drs. Emodi and Sharony exemplifies the compassionate spirit at Rambam, bringing hope and healing to those in need.

The visiting medical team with physicians in Madagascar

The visiting medical team with physicians in Madagascar.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Emodi.

Based on a Hebrew publication in Mako.