Brian Sommerlad recently returned from his tenth visit to the cleft centre in Sulaimania in the Kurdish region of Iraq. A week-long workshop included two days in which 75 patients (some of whom had had bad surgery elsewhere) were seen and assessed, four days of operations in two operating theatres and a day for a seminar attended by many delegates from around the country. The team were planning to carry on with the operations which could not be done during that week.

On this occasion, Brian was able to be present at the naming ceremony of the cleft operating theatre in memory of the late Khaled H Al Bahar and the installation of a new operating microscope. This was made possible by the very generous donation of £150,000 to CLEFT by his family.

A C-arm for investigation of children whose speech was not satisfactory after palate repair had previously been purchased though this donation. You can read more about the importance of the C-Arm by clicking here.

For the ceremony, two impressive cakes had been baked. The team is pictured below at the ceremony:

Kurdistan Save the Children (not part of the international Save the Children) provides a lot of support for cleft care in Sulaimania, including paying the salary of the only speech and language therapist in Iraq. CLEFT is pleased to work with them.

Until now the surgeons in Sulaimania have used an old microscope to carry out cleft palate repairs. The new microscope is a game-changer. It gives a wonderful view for the surgeon and assistant. One huge advantage is the quality of the images which can be seen on a screen. This meant that the many visitors who came to the workshop from many parts of Iraq could watch the operations with a similar view to that of the surgeon.

The team saw a 14 year-old girl, Ana, in Halabja – the city which was attacked with chemical weapons by Sadam Hussein. Many people died or suffered life-long ill-health as a result of this attack. Ana had had 2 unsuccessful operations on a cleft palate. A further operation to lengthen the palate was carried out in Sulaimania.


Ana Friad Khaled, age 14, pictured above with her mother (left); palate examination and photos being taken (right).


Clinicians watching Ana's operation using the new operating microscope (left). This incredible piece of medical equipment also allows greater opportunities for teaching as well as for the surgeon actually doing the operating. Ana's operation afforded a new learning opportunity for the team.

On this visit Brian was accompanied at the beginning by Tom Parry, a journalist and Rowan Griffiths, a photographer. Rowan has generously donated all the photos he took during his visit to CLEFT. Watch out also for Tom's article which will appear online in the Telegraph Global Health.