Better Lives Foundation working in Sierra Leone
Dental healthcare as part of general healthcare
Better Lives Foundation (www. betterlivesfoundation.org) runs three medical camps a year to Yonibana in Sierra Leone. This is situated 88 miles from the capital, Freetown. It is a rural setting with a polyclinic of 8 rooms which serves as a base for the different medical specialties visiting there depending on the time of year. One of these polyclinic rooms is used for dental care.
Extractions and minor surgical procedures are primarily carried out. It is not uncommon to carry out over a thousand extractions – many of them surgical and very difficult – in a 7-8 day period as there is a huge demand for these services. We also see cases of infections, such as Ludwig’s angina and osteomyelitis, trauma – dislocated jaws, and occasional cancers of the mouth. The Dental room is a permanent room with two chairs, overhead lights, autoclaves, a whole array of forceps, suction motor, slow and fast handpieces.
Alongside the dental treatment, prevention is advocated and local staff are trained in dental care. Volunteers take the opportunity to go to local clinics and schools to spread the message of prevention and oral health promotion. Local outreach workers spread the prevention programme using the manual. Presently, there are three local ‘students’ that we train to carry out extractions alongside our own volunteers from the UK.
We use the Teeth Relief Oral Health Manual to train these local staff. The manual has the following advantages for us in this teaching:
- Written for low resource settings, hence ideal for countries like Sierra Leone
- Easy to read such that even some of our younger outreach workers can understand
- Written without too much medical jargon, hence teaching from it or using it as a reference for us is very easy
- Clearly annotated sections which are colour coded, so the ‘locals’ there find it easy to use
The manual has also been given to Community Health Officers (CHOs), who are qualified to perform tasks that a doctor would do, but in a rural setting with sparse resources. The manual is very highly regarded by these CHOs who have an interest in dentistry after having done their basic medical training.
We are trying to get Njalla University, the largest and oldest University in Sierra Leone, to use the manual as their reference book as and when they get a dental department under way. The Dean there has expressed interest in using the manual in electronic form in their sparse library. At present there is no formal dental school or department in Sierra Leone.
In addition, we are still awaiting accreditation of the manual from the Health Department in Sierra Leone.
For more information and volunteering opportunities, see www.betterlivesfoundation.org
Jitesh Patel, Better Lives Foundation