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World Humanitarian Day

World Humanitarian Day Photo courtesy of the United Nations.

In honor of this first World Humanitarian Day, the United Nations created a powerful video with a message from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, highlighting the importance of humanitarian efforts around the world and inspiring us all to renew our commitment to our global community.

Although Interplast does not send volunteers to troubled regions, we would like to recognize our developing world doctors who serve the poor every day, and our devoted volunteers for the invaluable work they do.

In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “These men and women come from many backgrounds but they share a conviction that one person’s suffering is everyone’s responsibility.”

To all humanitarians on this day, we thank you and admire you for your ongoing commitment to serving those in need.

Interplast Included in Peter Singer’s “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty”


Interplast is honored to be included in world-renowned ethicist and Princeton professor Peter Singer’s widely acclaimed book, “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.” 

The premise of the book is that if we could easily save the life of a child, we would--- and that most of us living in affluent countries can and should do more. It challenges readers “to give a modest proportion of their income to effective organizations fighting extreme poverty” in order to solve world poverty. 

Interplast is mentioned as one of those effective organizations, based in part on watch-dog group Give Well’s favorable evaluation of us.  “Interplast doesn’t save lives, but Give Well included it in [its most effective organizations category] because it transforms them so dramatically.  Interplast corrects deformities like cleft palates, and helps burn victims so that they can walk or use their hands again,” writes Singer.  “The procedures performed are often relatively simple and would be routine in rich nations, but for the poor in the developing world, getting to a surgeon is often impossible…. Life-changing procedures anywhere, the surgeries are even more so in poor countries, where discrimination against people with deformities is often much more severe than in rich nations.”

The book also discusses in interesting detail the psychology of giving and how there needs to be a cultural shift in giving to end poverty. “Research has shown that people are more likely to give if they know that others are giving.  So we need to be upfront about our giving.”

Interplast is one of 15 charities recommended for donations on the book’s website.   Singer also recently wrote to us, “I just wanted to add my own appreciation of your work at Interplast.  I do hope the book helps you gain further support.”  While we do not know if it has yet, we do know his website endorsement and numerous book interviews have increased traffic to our website.  We thank Professor Singer for including us in his book and most importantly, for his work trying to make the world a better place for all.

To learn more, visit "The Life You Can Save”, or numerous interviews and reviews, including The New York Times, The Chrisitan Science Monitor  or NPR.  

Interplast Nepalese Surgeon with Farming Roots Tours Pescadero Farm

People in other countries are so hospitable to Interplast when we travel. We try to return the hospitality when our partners come here, but when Dr. Shankar Man Rai (our Nepalese director emeritus who was here receiving an honor from the Dalai Lama) asked to see a farm, we were not quite sure where to turn.

We called Flea Street Café in Menlo Park because they are known for their devotion to organic food and the local food movement. If anyone would have some good ideas, they would. The manager, Julianna, graciously encouraged me to contact Fat Cabbage Farm in Pescadero. We really appreciate her kindness and efforts to connect us.

With less than a day’s notice, Fat Cabbage Farm welcomed us to tour their new organic farm. It was a wonderful experience. The farm partners Miranda Roberts, Paul Richeson and Brian Coltrin took time out of their busy day to show us around their beautiful acreage in Pescadero. They answered the numerous questions Shankar had about farming in the United States.

As Shankar grew up on a farm in Nepal and comes from a long line of farmers, we all discussed the differences and similarities between organic farming here and subsistence farming in Nepal, where farming is primarily done by the very poor and uneducated who have not changed their methods in generations because the risk of failure is too great, i.e. their family might not eat for a season.

It was good to be able to do something nice for Shankar, who devotes his life to the poor in Nepal. We are very thankful to Fat Cabbage Farm for creating this experience for him. We are also very thankful to Jesse Ziff Cool and Drew, who kindly welcomed us to tour another CoolEatz garden/farm in Palo Alto that evening.

It was a special day, filled with great people doing great work---and I suspect it will be one that we all remember for awhile.

Visit our set for more farm photos.

Dalai Lama to Honor Interplast Nepal Director

BudheshNepal04 Dr. Shankar Man Rai, director emeritus of Interplast’s surgical outreach center in Nepal, has been named an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” and will receive the honorary award from the Dalai Lama on April 25-26, 2009 at ceremonies in San Francisco.

This prestigious international award is given only every few years to “individuals who, through their loving kindness and service to others, have made their communities and our world a better place.”  The "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" awards are given through Wisdom in Action, a California based foundation. They were previously given in 2005 and 2001.

Interplast congratulates Dr. Rai for restoring the hope and functionality for thousands of poor children in Nepal through reconstructive surgery.  Born to a poor farming family himself, he has dedicated his entire career to the comprehensive health and well-being of children living in poverty in Nepal and across the developing world.    As an incredibly gifted reconstructive plastic surgeon and outreach director, Dr. Rai has provided more than 10,000 free surgeries for impoverished children with clefts, disabling burn and hand injuries.  He has also helped more than 2,250 children in rural Nepal heal their speech impediments through the speech therapy camps he founded.

To learn more about Dr. Rai, watch the short documentary “Reasons for Hope” or read his biography.

BBC’s Report on Immolation Echoes Interplast Partner’s Experience in Sri Lanka

The BBC reported today about the rising level of self-immolation among young women in Afghanistan.  Their report ties the rise with extreme poverty, domestic violence and lack of women’s rights in the country.  It tells the tragic tell of women who feel their situations are so desperate that they have no other choice.

The piece echoes what we have been hearing from Interplast partner Dr. Chandini Perera.  She runs Sri Lanka’s only burn unit, where more than 80 percent of her patients, mainly women, are victims of domestic abuse, violence and self-immolation.  Like in Afghanistan, there is a tragic rise of self-inflicted burns among women in Sri Lanka, which also has the highest rate of suicide in the world. According to Perera, more than 70 percent of her patients (more than 500 patients in 2008 alone), have inflicted themselves with disabling burns, losing all hope after years of horrible abuse.

Kumari For example, Kumari, a young mother, suffered repeated beatings and marital rape from her alcoholic husband.       The last horrible beating and rape were too much for Kumari (pictured above) to bear and she set herself on fire, seeing no other way.  When Perera met Kumari, her head was sealed to her chest, her arms could not move; she could not feed herself, and was pregnant as a result of marital rape.

“Kumari is a classic case of domestic violence.  A young wife puts up with the beatings because in our culture it is acceptable, because no one talks about it.  We do not empower women to cope and seek help.  Domestic abuse covers all spectrums of society, but those in lower socio-economic groups are most at risk because they do not have the power to divorce, leave their men or earn their own income,” said Perera.  “In addition, in our part of the world when you are pregnant, you really only want to look at beautiful things; so if you are burned, deformed, abused, you can not even go to a maternity clinic because other pregnant women can not look upon you.  It is difficult to get my patients even in the maternity ward of my own hospital! That is how stigmatized burns are.”

But Perera fought to get Kumari the maternity care she desperately needed and had the right to receive, even though she was disfigured.  Perera also provided reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and counseling for her. Kumari can move her head and arms again and her family has come to her aid and is helping with the children, including a new baby.

Perera believes that empowering burn victims to reenter society will help change social attitudes toward domestic abuse and disabilities—and hopefully, fewer women will suffer in the future.  Her studies on the rise of self-immolation in Sri Lanka have been presented at the International Society of Burn Injuries and other international medical conferences, to raise awareness of this tragic and hidden trend.

Photo by Phil Borges.

International Women's Day

Dr. Chandini Perera with patient

On this International Women’s Day, we would like to reintroduce you to Interplast’s partner Dr. Chandini Perera of Sri Lanka.

Chandini (shown above) is one of only six plastic surgeons in Sri Lanka and head of the country's burn care facility.  She heals and empowers abused women with disabling burns (mainly from acid burns and self-immolation; 70 percent of her patients are abused women).  Her patients include Kanchana (shown below), whose boyfriend threw acid on her in anger of her leaving the village for nursing school; she is now a nurse at the National Hospital of Colombo.

Kanchana Burns are the only injury that happens more to women than men—mainly because of domestic chores on open fires but tragically, often because of domestic abuse.  To give context to how large a problem it is, nearly 4 million women fall victim to a severe burn from fire each year—the same number who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS every year. 

As you celebrate International Women’s Day today, we hope you will remember women in developing countries who suffer from disabling burns and women like Dr. Chandini Perera who helps heal and empower them.  To learn more about Chandini and her work, check out NPR’s interview with her.

Photos by Phil Borges.

The Lancet: Fires Kill Women in India

Renu. Ravages of Burns Before          IMG_7992

On Monday, The Lancet published a study stating that more than 100,000 young women were killed in fires in India in a single year, and many of those deaths were tied to domestic abuse.

These findings substantiate Interplast’s study on the forgotten global health crisis of burns and give further evidence that Southeast Asia (which includes India) is the epicenter of the crisis.

We are pleased that The Lancet and many newspapers across the country covered this important issue.  However, this study only discusses deaths by fires.  What about the women who survive, but who are left disfigured and disabled in ways unimaginable in the United States?

Some of them become Interplast patients and we help restore their abilities to use their hands or move their head again; yet, there are millions more who are left as outcasts and with permanent disabilities.  Burns are a neglected health issue that is solvable with more resources for prevention, better acute care, reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation.  Nearly 4 million women worldwide receive a severe burn every year---the same number of women who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS annually.  Isn’t it time to make burns a global health priority?

Above are photographs of  Renu, an Interplast patient and victim of domestic abuse in Dehradun, where she just received surgery to release her contractures around her mouth and nose.  The first one is of her before she was set on fire.  After photo by John Urban.

Reconstructive Surgery for Animal Attacks: Connecticut to Zambia

Today several news programs covered the tragic story of the Connecticut woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee.  According to MSNBC, a team of surgeons worked for seven hours to try to save the woman.  Hearing this story reminded us of the work our surgical partners in developing countries do periodically---usually alone and without state-of-the-art medical equipment---but still with results better than thought possible. 2227594316_bbf0d6acbb_o

For example, Dr. Yogi Aeron, Interplast outreach director in Northern India and one of the few reconstructive plastic surgeons in the region, is known for his expertise in restoring functionality to those who have been bitten by wild bears.  Dr. Goran Jovic, Interplast surgical outreach director and the only plastic surgeon in Zambia, has helped heal those attacked by hyenas (see photo above, caution graphic photos when following links) and chimpanzees.  Both surgeons work in near isolation, in developing world hospitals with dated infrastructure, on the poorest of the poor; yet, they are able to miraculously give the neediest in our midst the care they need after tragic animal accidents.

Interplast supports them with oversight and funding, as well as teaching tools like Interplast Grand Rounds, a web-based program that connects isolated, developing world surgeons with a global network of medical professionals for advice on difficult cases.  Read more about reconstructive surgery in Zambia for the hyena and chimpanzee attacks, see below and after photos and view the thread of global advice on Interplast Grand Rounds.

Caution graphic photos when following links

Global Health