Children disfigured by fire have lost hope after learning their last chance of a smiling face is leaving the country this week.
Five children from the Johannesburg-based Children of Fire centre marched to the health department in Pretoria, requesting Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to assist in keeping Dr Nebil Lahouel in the country.
Lahouel, a Tunisian national, moved to South Africa eight years ago, offering his skills on a government contract as the only plastic surgeon in Mpumalanga at the Witbank Hospital for five years.
He then moved to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg in 2013, where he helped many patients.
But the highly skilled doctor, who managed to reattach a patient’s amputated hand to functionality capacity, now faces the end of his contract.
Children of Fire founder Bronwen Jones said the charity was desperate as they had to fund air fares and accommodation overseas for children who needed plastic surgery.
She said Lahouel was due to insert a tissue expander into a badly burned three-year-old to ease his disfigurement. Younger surgeons had said the procedure was too complex for them.
“Now, that boy will not get the surgery he needs. We have four South African child burns survivors overseas, looking for surgical solutions,” Jones said.
“It costs us enormous money to try to help them to other countries because there are no longer enough reconstructive surgeons in South Africa. The cost of taking children for surgery elsewhere means our charity will probably close during 2017.”
Lahouel on Monday told The Citizen he was saddened by his departure as he was passionate about his work.
“I have been working for eight years and didn’t do it to get anything back,” he said.
“If I can help, then why not? What kept me in South Africa was the lack of plastic surgeons and helping people.”
Lahouel had sought the right to also work in the private sector, but was apparently told by the Health Professions Council of South Africa to sit for an examination to undertake the same work he had already been doing.
Based on this condition, the plastic surgery lecturer at University of the Witwatersrand would have to write the same exam he offered to his students. The health department had not commented at the time of going to press.