Islington doctor gives children gift of smile

The basic rights to speak, eat and smile are things that the vast majority of people in the Western world take for granted.

But it’s a luxury for many children living in the world’s poorest, rural communities, which is why one Islington doctor is determined to help.

Anaesthetist Dr Joseph Azzopardi, of Offord Road, set off on a six-week medical mission to provide facial surgery for children from rural Ethiopia on Friday.

Heading up a team of 14 medics, he will provide treatment for up to 50 patients with complex facial disabilities including burns and the facial gangrenous disease, noma.

Dr Azzopardi, 42, was approached by UK charity, Project Harar Ethiopia, after a previous trip in 2009 and said he felt compelled to help once again.

“For many of the kids, the operation is a life-changing event. Many are living in remote communities ostracised by other children and unable to eat,” he said.

Pre and post operative care will be provided at a nearby specialist rehabilitation centre, Cheshire Home, with the aim of providing kids with a new life and new smiles.

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It is the second trip that Dr Azzopardi has attended on behalf of the charity and his commitment is down to the excellent work that they do.

“The strength of the charity is that they send scouts out in remote areas and find people with deformities. They hold clinics and see all the candidates who are suitable for surgery.”

In addition to providing surgeries, the team will be carrying out research and helping to train local medical staff by improving their skills so that they perform facial operations in the future.

It is hoped that this will have “long-term benefits” for the community.

Dr Azzopardi said that, while the bond with the children makes it a “worthwhile experience”, the basic conditions can make the practicalities of carrying out the medical work equally tough.

“It’s difficult because you are working out of your comfort zone. It’s like a logistical challenge. You’re not working with NHS equipment.”

However, he said he was “very proud to be involved” in the operation.

Dr Azzopardi was born in Malta and completed his training in pain medicine and anaesthesia in the UK.

Project Harar, which is based in Hampstead, aims to provide a responsive and comprehensive outreach service, to help remote communities in Ethiopia with the best possible healthcare.

n To find out more about Project Harar Ethiopia and Dr Azzopardi’s trip, visit