Children’s Surgical Centre offers free surgery to Cambodia’s disabled. (View my documentary images).

While disabled people living in first world, industrialized nations are increasingly embraced by their respective societies - and legislation ensures access to infrastructure including rehabilitation facilities and transportation - disability is akin to disease in a war torn country like Cambodia, because of its devastating effects on the quality of human life.

A 2011 World Health Organization and World Bank joint report, suggested that about one billion people experience disability, and these individuals generally suffer poorer health, lower education, lower standard of living, and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. For example, a child suffering a cleft palate in a country like Cambodia is often malnourished - given the difficulty in eating and drinking - and is typically ostracized from school, work and marriage. A short, relatively simple, one hour surgery will dramatically change the child’s life in numerous and profound ways. Disabilities interfere with an adult’s ability to work, socialize and interact in normal ways, taken for granted by most of us. For people suffering from deformities and injuries, access to surgery can vastly improve their mobility, ability to work and to contribute to their respective families and society. The benefits are shared by the individual and their community.

Fortunately for Cambodia’s disabled, the committed and passionate staff of Children’s Surgical Centre (CSC), a surgical and rehabilitation clinic in Phnom Penh, are dedicated to improving the quality of life for otherwise disenfranchised Cambodians. Led by British surgeon, Dr. Jim Gollogly, OBE, the staff is all Cambodian, and prove every day that a locally operated, free surgical clinic is a viable option in this poor, developing nation. A mandate of the clinic is to create a sustainable surgical centre for Cambodians, by educating and training Cambodian surgeons and health care workers.

The CSC (formerly ROSEcharities), was founded by doctors with prior experience in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and other developing countries where they had observed that these post conflict nations shared a commonality in terms of a complete lack of infrastructure for surgical and medical rehabilitation. CSC was originally designed to specialize in landmine and other direct war related injuries. However, it wasn’t long before Cambodians from all over the country, suffering from all manner of disabilities and health related issues, heard about the possibility of free treatment, and began making the trip to Phnom Penh. The journey for many, is in itself an arduous undertaking, and can often take weeks for many individuals. With so many Cambodians seeking treatment for so many different conditions, the centre quickly grew beyond its original aims, and continues to seek new ways to treat the ever growing number of Cambodians that show up on a daily basis. The centre relies on sponsors and donations for funding, and visits from international surgeons and health care professionals, to bring new techniques and further the knowledge and training of the Cambodian staff.

The surgical centre opened in Phnom Penh in 1998 under the guidance of Dr. Gollogly, and now performs about 5,000 surgeries per year, completely free of charge to the patients. An incredible achievement, especially if one considers the difficulties intrinsic to working in a developing nation, prone to floods, road closures, power outages as well as local bureaucratic red tape and corruption. The busiest year to date is 2013, when by December over 6,000 surgeries had been performed.

As CEO and director, Dr. Gollogly manages a staff of roughly 100 Cambodian doctors, nurses, assistants, administrators, trainees and maintenance staff, while he himself can be found leading patient examinations in the morning and surgery in the afternoon.

A common misconception - held in industrialized nations - is that otherwise simple surgery has to be high tech, complicated and expensive, in order to be safe and beneficial. CSC maintains and continues to prove that simple and safe surgery can be performed at low cost, and is becoming a model surgical clinic that will hopefully be copied throughout nations of the developing world.

In a country like Cambodia, prevalent diseases and medical conditions are considered to be a result of the present or past conflict, and are explained as either primary, secondary or tertiary injuries or disabilities. Where primary disabilities result directly from the conflict, such as the amputation of a landmine injury, secondary disabilities include resulting disease from the breakdown of infrastructure and disruption of health care and vaccination programs. Tertiary disabilities result from injuries sustained in a psychologically damaged society where weapons are rampant and violence widespread, and include gunshot wounds and acid burns.

To keep within its own cost effective parameters, CSC only performs surgery that does not see major blood loss that requires transfusions. These simple but dramatic life improving surgeries include but are not limited to, facial and neck tumor removal, amputation or amputation revision, cleft lip and palate repair, cataract removal and repair, the correction of polio or leprosy deformities, bullet and shrapnel removal, the release of acid burn contractures and skin grafting.

The greatest ongoing need is for financial contributions for operating costs, and CSC does accept financial donations given with specific use in mind, such as for children with cleft lips and palates. The donation of frequent flier points is helpful for transporting patients overseas for life saving surgery not possible in Cambodia, and for sending medical staff for advanced training with specialists. CSC also accepts trained volunteers for pre-determined periods and frequently hosts the internships of foreign medical students.

We live in a world besieged by international conflicts, natural disasters and disease. Late night TV viewers are inundated with images of starving or diseased children with dirty faces in isolated villages, and the magnitude of helping so many can seem overwhelming and sadly too often leads to a general sense of apathy. There are however NGO’s, (Non Governmental Organizations) doing outstanding work that immediately improves the quality of life for those that need it most, and Children’s Surgical Centre is leading the way by providing essential medical and surgical care, on a daily basis to thousands of grateful Cambodians.

1,001 words.

Copyright Protected by British, documentary photographer, Adrian Brown.
This is an updated version of my original 2002 article, that was published on the front page of the Op/Ed section of the Vancouver Sun.

Children’s Surgical Centre website

Dr. Jim Gollogly, OBE.
CEO, Director, Children’s Surgical Centre

Board Secretary, Jim Carmichael

Children’s Surgical Centre
Khleang National Rehabilitation Center
Road 6A, Khan Ruseykeo
Sangkat Chroy Changvar,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From outside
Cambodia Tel: +855 23 43 02 02
From inside
Cambodia : 023 43 02 02