​To make a difference and answer the call of help in and beyond Singapore shores.   It is this passion that drives many humanitarian medical mission volunteers.

Professor Lee Seng Teik, Emeritus Senior Consultant at the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, SGH, has been involved in humanitarian medical missions for over two decades. More recently, Prof Lee has been visiting Cheng Mai County, in Hainan Province, China, to operate on patients with cleft/craniofacial problems.   These visits are part of a collaborative project called Hainan Smiles between Singapore and Hainan province.   Since 2009, the missions have performed over 150 operations, enriching the lives of patients who may otherwise have been outcast from society.

Professor Anantharaman Venkataraman, Senior Consultant at the Department of Emergency Medicine, SGH, has been actively involved in disaster management training missions. He finds such outreach enriching and rewarding, and an opportunity to give back to society. “You don’t fish for them, you teach them how to fish” he adds.

“We aim to draw up guidelines to aid budding volunteer teams in organising successful missions.” - Prof Lee Seng Teik, Co-Chair, ICHMM, Emeritus Senior Consultant, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, SGH

To facilitate discussion, sharing and understanding of humanitarian medical missions, Prof Lee and Prof Anantharaman co-chaired the first International Conference on Humanitarian Medical Missions (ICHMM) which took place from 30 October to 1 November 2014.  The SGH-organised event dedicated to all medical volunteers working beyond borders created a meaningful platform for like-minded individuals to gather and discuss the future of medical missions abroad. Navigating such missions can be challenging.   To aid budding volunteer teams in launching successful missions, a set of guidelines are expected to be drawn up from the recent conference.

“There are many NGOs around the world doing humanitarian work, bringing medical aid and relief to those who need it.   It can be a challenge to coordinate such efforts as tremendous manpower and finances are required. From this conference we aim to draw up guidelines to aid budding volunteer teams in organising successful missions,” added Prof Lee.

SingHealth Institutions are very supportive and proactive in the organisation of such volunteer medical missions in the region and beyond.   Multiple missions to share skills, knowledge and experience have been carried out in countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh in response to their needs and to help raise the standard of healthcare in the region.

ICHMM Guest-of-Honour, Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lauded the efforts of SingHealth Institutions in this area.   He pointed out that the work of humanitarian medical volunteers leaves a positive legacy in enhancing the skills of medical practices in the host country, “The work which our doctors, dentists, nurses, therapists and other allied professionals do when they go on medical missions is invaluable. Through their kind deeds, they have crossed geographical, political, cultural and linguistic barriers.”


Hainan Smiles
Over the past five years, ten medical missions have gone to Cheng Mai County, Hainan Province, China, to operate on patients with cleft/ craniofacial problems.   Each mission comprised of a multidisciplinary group of 10 to 20 doctors, dental specialists, anaesthetists, speech therapists and nurses from both SGH and the private sector.   The aim was to enrich the lives of patients who would have otherwise faced social difficulties due to their physical handicap. 

Training for a disaster
To aid the disaster-prone area of South Sulawesi, SingHealth institutions have trained healthcare workers and first responders in managing the initial phase of disasters.   The team partnered with Hasanuddin University, one of the largest state-owned Universities in Indonesia, to implement a training programme to improve the management of crisis situations and reduce post disaster casualties.

Training physiotherapists in Cambodia
Over the last ten years, Associate Professor Celia Tan, Director, Group Allied Health, SingHealth has been leading teams from SGH and other SingHealth Institutions to train physiotherapists in Cambodia.  The programme was specially developed to cover musculoskeletal, neurology, cardiopulmonary and electrotherapy to prepare candidates for independent physiotherapy practice to help their communities.