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Charity Accused of Shoddy Service

November 24, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Operation Smile, the charity that sends surgeons abroad to fix the cleft palates and lips of some of the world’s poorest children, has promised to investigate allegations of shoddy medical practices.

The charity has garnered millions of dollars in donations from the likes of Bill Gates and Goldie Hawn since its founding 17 years ago and has won numerous awards.

But critics in the United States and abroad say the organization has placed volume and publicity over the children’s safety. Concerns have been raised in China, Bolivia and Kenya.

Last year, four children died during or after surgery, The New York Times reported today. Operation Smile officials acknowledged losing 12 other patients since 1982. Deaths from cleft palate or lip surgery are considered rare in the developed world.

Physicians in China have accused the Operation Smile surgeons there of assembly line medicine. The Times quoted a Chinese report as saying the surgeons ``prioritized numbers treated at the cost of quality and safety.″

Charity co-founder Dr. William Magee Jr., a plastic surgeon, dismissed the allegations as untrue. At a news conference Tuesday, he said a lawyer has been hired to review the charity’s operations and will report by January.

The charity, which has a stated goal of treating 10,000 children a year, has had about one death for every 2,000 cases overseas, Magee said. He called the rate about average.

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