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A Spanish hospital has performed the world's first complete face transplant, according to the AFP news agency.

A team of 30 worked for 22 hours to operate on a man who could not swallow, breathe or talk normally following an accident five years ago.

Eleven other face transplants have been previously been carried out around the world, but the Vall d'Hebron hospital in Barcelona said those involved only part of the patient's face.

Medical team leader Joan Pere Barret said the man received new facial muscles, skin, nose, lips, jaw, teeth, palate and cheekbones on March 20.

He said the patient's new face was created to resemble his original one, rather than that of the anonymous donor.

The first successful face transplant was performed in France in 2005 on a woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Since then similar transplants have also been done in China and the US.

- NZHERALD STAFF