Blog post: The importance of humanitarian work in orthopaedics

by Mr Sarkhell Radha, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon, South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre

In a world where many people lack access to good healthcare, skilled surgeons who engage in humanitarian missions are vital. In this blog post, I’ll use my personal experience to delve into the impact that surgeons, alongside organisations such as the Swisscross Foundation have on global health by highlighting how they provide crucial medical care to underserved populations. From life-saving interventions to upskilling local professionals, I explore the pivotal role surgeons and healthcare professionals can play in humanitarian work and the undeniable importance of their contributions.

The Swisscross Foundation utilises global experts in reconstructive surgery to provide direct care to vulnerable populations affected by conflict. The Global Medical Corps maintains a pool of specialised health care workers, standardises clinical protocols and medical logistics, and provides quality training to local workers.

At the core of humanitarian missions lies a dedicated effort to bridge the gaping healthcare divide that separates privileged regions from marginalised ones. Surgeons and healthcare professionals, armed not only with their clinical expertise but with compassion, play an irreplaceable role in this work. Their skills become a lifeline for individuals who find themselves unable to access even the most fundamental medical services due to conflicts, poverty, or geographical isolation.

Dr. Enrique Steiger, a specialist in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Traumatology is a an example of a practitioner who has dedicated substantial time to humanitarian missions. For numerous years, he worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and embarked on expeditions alongside other surgeons such as Dr Ian Furst, Dr. Richard Gosselin, Mr. Richard Villar and Prof. Deiary Kader – some of whom, like myself, are from the South West London Elective Orthoapedic Centre. All were part of the ICRC.

Unfortunately, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of the centre after seven years. This presented a significant challenge, as the need for humanitarian work remained. In response to this dilemma, a group of surgeons recognised the potential of a more decentralised approach, one that could be more sustainable in the long run. This approach allowed surgeons of various skills and expertise to have a voice in running the organisation and shape the future for a new healthcare charity organisation. This novel approach involved local surgeons, doctors, and nurses collaborating with volunteer global experts from the Global Medical Corps. They sought support from UAE Aid to facilitate intricate reconstructive surgeries. Subsequently, with funding from private donors and UAE Aid, the Swisscross Foundation was established.

Swisscross works to empower, fortify, and bolster frontline healthcare communities that have been ravaged by armed conflicts and humanitarian crises. Through medical missions, education, research-driven initiatives, and data tools that amplify local medical capacities, the organisation strives to enhance the quality of medical care in conflict zones and restore human dignity. The foundation provides the best quality of care with limited resources and its innovative idea of up skilling and training local health professionals provides disadvantaged countries with expertise to look after their local people. This is a great example of making healthcare more accessible to the local community and allowing local healthcare professionals to develop the skills they need for long-term healthcare support.

Dr. Steiger strongly advocates for a path forward that involves providing all-around care, including treatment, training, and research right in the communities scarred by war. The Swisscross Foundation, which has been operational for about two years, has thrived under the guidance of local doctors providing localised care and expert surgeons from both the national and international levels performing surgeries.

As someone who has personally been at the forefront of numerous transformative surgeries, I can wholeheartedly attest to the paramount importance of organisations like the Swisscross Foundation. They are changing lives that used to feel hopeless.  We have the power to make a real difference, and it’s important that we continue to extend our aid to those in desperate need.

Surgeons and healthcare professionals engaged in humanitarian work are the epitome of compassion and medical excellence. Their unwavering commitment to closing the healthcare gap, providing life-changing treatments, and building sustainable healthcare systems stands as a testament to the transcendent power of medicine as a catalyst for positive transformation. Humanitarian work goes beyond just helping; it empowers people and communities to take control of their lives and futures. By focusing on dignity, education, resilience, and collaborative efforts, these initiatives lay the groundwork for a more equitable world.

I extend our gratitude to organisations such as the National Orthopaedic Alliance, which supports the efforts of all organisations involved in humanitarian endeavours. If you wish to delve deeper into the activities of the Swisscross Foundation, I encourage you to reach out and learn more by visiting