The main activity of S.F.C. – Onlus is to organise surgical teams of 10-12 voluntary operators, that is paediatric surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses, that operate annually in 2 to 3-week long uninterrupted missions, at Governmental Teaching Hospitals where there are many patients who require specialist treatments, especially surgeries.

Collaboration requests are made directly by local doctors and institutions and volunteers, are either retired or dedicate their time off work to such activities (in some cases, volunteers may be on a professional refresher course). All the operators are accredited to work by the competent authorities of the host countries: 70% of volunteers come from the hospital of Vicenza, whereas the remaining 30% come from other hospitals in Veneto or other regions of Italy.

Local doctors and nurses actively participate in all the stages of the mission: from identification and preliminary recommendation of patients, to diagnostic investigations, surgical activities, post-operative care and medium-to-long term follow-up. The majority of the patients suffer from a non-disabling CCM and have never had the opportunity to undergo surgery to correct their problem; some may suffer from a CM, treated with a first “life-saving” surgery and are awaiting the final reconstruction. Neonatal Surgery cannot be programmed and, when conditions allow it, it can be performed: it is also performed keeping in mind the “training” requirements of local nurses and anaesthetists.

In addition to reconstructive surgeries to restore “anatomical integrity” and give patients their “social role”, daily activities also include training to help local staff develop and become professionally autonomous.  “On-site” knowledge transmission is complemented by refresher meetings and, in some cases, by didactic activities aimed at Medicine students.

Medications, medical equipment and specific tools for specialist surgery (dedicated surgical instruments, muscle stimulators, uro-endoscopes) that are difficult to find locally, are brought over from Italy. Missions are financed by donations made by especially sensitive individuals (private citizens, charities or companies), or by participation to public tenders.

Funds are used to pay for travelling expenses and to buy material on-site; whereas board and lodging and hospital expenses for patients are usually borne by local institutions.

Specialist surgeries, (which also include elective reconstructive surgery) are an integral part of the Western health model of reference, but are considered a “luxury” in countries where resources are “poor” and they are almost completely neglected by the public health system.

 Demands for this type of care by the population is on the rise, especially where there are few doctors (and even fewer surgeons and anaesthetists) and professional refresher courses are scarce. In such context, the presence of “expert professionals”, who are part of a multidisciplinary teams operating autonomously, able to treat patients as well as pass down their expertise on-site by adapting it to the context, is an efficient and inexpensive way to facilitate professional development and improve operating standards in hospitals.   

Short missions (more efficaciously defined as “intensive”) are considered “credible” by the local staff and management only if they guarantee continuity over time, and are matched by an organisational pattern that facilitates integration between professionals.