Since 2004, Options has addressed advanced painful tooth decay that is rampant in Zambia: we found that half of children in a large orphanage, The Kasisi Children’s Home and half of adults in a remote rural village had extensive tooth decay. Although Options dental volunteers have extracted bombed-out teeth that were useless for chewing and only caused severe pain, lack of sleep and distractions from school and work, the teams’ emphasis has been on simple preventive measures:
- Education concerning how to maintain oral hygiene;
- Provision of toothbrushes and fluoride-containing toothpaste;
- Periodic applications of decay-preventing fluoride-varnish
These measures markedly reduced the prevalence of decay in The Kasisi Home and in the village.
Our challenge is to achieve these results in the thousands of rural villages that characterize the bulk of the Zambian landmass — and also of other developing countries.
To address this challenge, Options emphasizes primarily empowering local resources – notably excellent trained dental therapists eager to participate in outreach projects in rural areas.
- Provides donations of money and supplies to the National Zambian Dental Training School, the faculty and students of which undertake the outreach activities. Options established a dental clinic at The Kasisi Home now serviced by dental training school personnel.
- Raises funds to enable the Dental Training School to enlarge its facilities and accommodate training of an expanded healthcare workforce, especially to increase the number of trained women.
- Encourages young residents of rural subsistence farming communities to consider careers in healthcare, for example as dental therapists and provides funds for their remedial education necessary for them to matriculate in healthcare training programs. Options’ experience is that these individuals are highly motivated to succeed and to return to and serve rural areas following completion of their training.
When the Options oral health prevention team arrives in a rural village, residents travel great distances to receive its services: hundreds and even over a thousand people show up. The magnet of dental prevention addresses the problem that persons dispersed throughout vast hinterlands rarely if ever are in contact with relatively few rural health facilities.
By concentrating the eligible population, health workers can engage in all kinds of interventions related to the pervasive disease problems of the region: vaccination programs, HIV counseling, provision of HIV and tuberculosis medications and distribution of insecticide-impregnated mosquito netting.
For now, Options has concentrated on using the dental magnet strategy to disseminate diagnostic screening for a prevalent and devastating genetic disease in Africa, sickle cell anemia.
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