Support for Humanitarian Project
Kenya may be a dream holiday destination for many tourists, but for many of its inhabitants it is a country with inadequate medical care. On his travels, Dr. Peter Dierck, General Secretary of Dentists for Africa e.V., experiences up close just how difficult dental care provision proves to be for local people.
It is a luxury which many simply cannot afford. Together with his colleagues from the association Dentists for Africa e.V., the dentist from Blomberg, Germany, fights to enable disadvantaged people in Kenya to access dental care.
Dr. Dierck, let us start from the beginning. Dentists for Africa was founded over fifteen years ago. What was the objective?
Our basic goal then was, and indeed today still is, to provide qualified and sustainable dental care to disadvantaged people in Kenya. To start with, Dr. Hans-Joachim Schinkel, our first chairman, got together with a few enthusiastic dentists from the region in 1999 and founded a voluntary association – at the time known as Zahnarzthilfe Kenya e.V. – in Sömmerda, Germany. Using the funds available at the time, a container was loaded with dental equipment and sent to Africa via sea freight. Today we still work with our project partners, the Franciscan nuns, who were calling out for the need for a dental clinic for a hospital in Nyabondo. The dental clinic in Nyabondo thus became the first dental practice, which was opened in the year 2000. Little by little, through the Franciscan nun contacts, we were able to set up additional centers/hospitals in Kenya, which also had a big requirement for dental clinics. Since the association began, we have been able to establish thirteen dental clinics which are operated today by Kenyan dentists – or "oral health officers", as they are referred to – with the support of German dentists. A few years after the association was founded, we expanded our commitment with a sponsorship program for promoting education for orphans and set up a project for primarily HIV-positive widows who have come together to improve the lives of their families.
What are the main humanitarian problems that Kenya has to face?
In addition to war, hunger, and extreme poverty, medical/dental care provision represents a particularly gaping hole in Kenya. In large parts of East Africa, dental care provision is as good as nonexistent. For most people, access to a dentist is a luxury which they cannot afford. On top of this comes uncertainty over correct oral hygiene and a lack of qualified dentists. Here, with Dentists for Africa e.V., we can make a small contribution by establishing dental practices and the qualification and further training of skilled specialist personnel on location.
From the very beginning, the concept of Dentists for Africa was about helping people help themselves. Does that work?
Yes, it works very well. Through the qualification of Kenyan dental students, oral health officers, dental technicians and medical engineers, we are ensuring that each dental clinic has competent personnel. We have been working on this for many years now together with the resident Franciscan nuns, without whose support such a complex organization would have been pretty much impossible. By way of example, Sister Fabian is one of the nuns who completed a course in dentistry with the help of our association and now runs the dental center at Kisii, while also coordinating our projects. At least one oral health officer (OHO) – a type of dentist – who has completed a three-year study works in each dental clinic. An OHO may perform extractions, fillings, as well as both endodontic and simple prosthodontic treatments. What is particularly gratifying is that we can make specialist personnel from our sponsorship program. In 2015, 124 orphaned children completed their vocational training, and some of them went straight into our projects. Two of the orphans are even currently completing a dentistry degree from a university. Our work does not just stop after training, however; not by any stretch. The personnel working in the dental clinic and the dentistry students are given further training every year by our association through technical seminars. The motivation and keenness to learn of the people here is something that continues to impress us.
How is the provision of dental care locally received?
The feedback from patients and care providers is entirely positive. The gratitude of the Kenyan population is overwhelming. I remember the case very well of an old man who came to us complaining about pain. Following a detailed examination, we realized that a few teeth had to be extracted. After being treated, the man was jubilant that we were able to take his pain away. Just before our journey back, he gifted us with an enormous banana plant and waved us goodbye until our car disappeared beyond the horizon. That was a very touching moment for me.
As a result of the educational work of those sharing their training in schools, oral health has also improved in the youth population. The most sustainable approach is to help the children and to promote awareness of oral hygiene and sensitivity to dental issues. To do this, we distribute dental care items to the children, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, and explain how to use them in a fun way. If necessary, we then perform dental treatment in our clinics – with the consent of the children's parents of course.
How does your association finance the many projects and assistance missions?
Financing mostly comes from monetary and in-kind donations. Some dental companies such as KaVo support us here generously with treatment units, handpieces and contra-angle handpieces, as well as other small equipment. Over the past few years, for example, the assistance from the companies Henry Schein and KaVo has facilitated the donation of a digital panoramic X-ray device. The device is a very important addition to our clinic in Kisii. A lot of patients come to the practice with skull and jaw fractures resulting from motorbike accidents. The local team can now make more precise diagnoses using the new OPG (orthopantomogram), thus enabling the application of perfectly fitting treatments for the patients.
Often there is the complaint that just a small portion of donations actually goes to those that need them. With us, every euro spent really goes into our projects, since we fund our low administration costs exclusively through membership contributions, the administration fee of the direct sponsorships and from half the revenue from the precious metal collection campaigns. This is very important to us, and we aim to do the same in the future. We hope that even more colleagues from Germany will join our association or take up a sponsorship. This is the only way we can keep our projects alive and ensure self-help activities in Kenya for the long term.
What will be the biggest tasks ahead for Dentists for Africa in the near future? What activities are there planned?
We continuously receive requests for new dental clinics, which we examine in detail. If the association has the necessary funds and support for them, then they can be installed.
Our central warehouse in Kisii which supplies the surrounding dental clinics with materials, instruments and devices is already at a very good level in terms of logistics. The aim is to stock it with materials and equipment so that it can service the local requirements of the practices even quicker to depot standard.
Also, we are conducting our fourth technical seminar in the fall. The focus this year is (digital) X-rays. Participants will learn how to handle an X-ray unit, which indications can be treated with one, and how they work with scanners. Up until now, we have only had the OPG device mentioned in our central warehouse. In the long term, there should be an X-ray unit in every dental clinic as standard.
How can you help?
- As a dentist, dental assistant or dental technician by participating in an aid mission.
- As a layman, by supporting the sponsorship and widow project or by taking on your own sponsorship of an orphaned child.
- By donating money
- Through membership of the association and by taking on personal responsibility for subprojects.
- Through the participation of your dental practice in precious metal donation campaigns.