A 14 year-old Adolf Mangosongo had been in pain since standard 5 and is now in Form One. His painful tooth which lay in front of another was embedded into the gum. His father constantly gave him herbs to ease the pain but never took him to the clinic.
He moved to Tingi area recently to live with his aunt in order to attend secondary school. When he heard about free dental treatment camp offered by Bridge2Aid Australia at school he was overjoyed.
“I made sure that I arrived early so I could be attended to, I am so happy to get this treatment, at last my pain will come to end now,” he said.
Mangosongo is one of the 750 patients in Kilwa District who have benefited from eight-day free dental clinic camp offered by Bridge2Aid Australia—an international relief organisation, which provides emergency dental treatment to some of the world’s poorest people.
The free dental treatment camp was held between August 15 and 22, this year in Nangulukulu and Tingi health centres in the district located 300 km south of Dar es Salaam, the country's commercial capital.
Apart from providing free treatments to patients in the area, local clinical officers were also empowered with basic oral hygiene management skills that they will use to serve their communities for years to come.
It was the first training programme run by Bridge2Aid Australia since it was launched in 2016.
A team of 11 volunteer dentists, dental technicians and nurses from Australia and the UK signed up for the program and landed in Tanzania, some for the first time.
The team was led by Dr Graham Stokes from the UK who has volunteered with Bridge2AidUK for 14 years.
“What I love about Bridge2Aid is, first of all, it’s sustainable, and secondly, that we are a family and this is so exciting for me to have the privilege of leading the first Australian team of Australian dentists and dental health workers with Bridge2AidAustralia.For me that makes this trip so special,” Dr Stokes said.
Dr Hussein Rwanda, the Dental District Officer for Kilwa District is not new to the program, having attended four programmes since 2014 .
“There is a major challenge in the access to dental treatment in our country in the rural areas. Our districts are large and health facilities scattered. Dental personnel are very few in comparison to the need. For example a patient who attends Nanjirinji health center will have to travel over 100 kilometers to get dental treatment at the district hospital,” said Dr Rwanda
Dr Rwanda is passionate about his work and his skills under challenging circumstances are a testament to the gift he has for his job. He sees great merit in the Bridge2Aid model.
‘’Clinical Officers are trained essentially in emergency basic oral hygiene management, so that they can deal with the elementary issues before referring any patient further,” he said.
The treatment room in Tingi medical center was set up like an assembly line with each station being manned by a dentist trainer and a clinical officer. The back room had a sterilizing station with the oral health team cleaning the used utensils and sterilizing them with great care in the pressure cookers before they were used again.
One of the volunteers Dr Kieran Weil is a dental surgeon in the UK with a special interest in oral surgery. She has delivered the Bridge2Aid training in Tanzania 20 times.
Her first trip was in 2007 only a year after the first programme by Bridge2Aid in 2006. The NGO was started in 2004 by Dr. Ian Wilson, a dentist from the north west of England who wanted a link with his previous work in Mwanza when he returned to England.
From humble beginnings coaxing his friends to come out to Tanzania as volunteers, it is now a fully fledged charity which has influenced Australian to start their own.
Dr Weil has seen the program grow from strength to strength “ The clinical officers we are working with are better and better and are of a higher caliber with more knowledge and understanding. They enjoy not only the skills but also the enthusiasm and the time and energy invested in them. “
Mashaka Kayago is clinical officer from Nanjirinji Health Center in the district who has been received the training on the Bridge2Aid Australian programme.
He cited lack dental facilities at his workplace as a challenge.
“Although I am trained as a clinical officer, I am now very confident that I can deal with basic or emergency dental care at my place of work, this has been a great opportunity for me,” Kayago said.
One of the director’s of Bridge2Aid Australia Dr Jeremy Keating who was part of the first Australian training programme said: “An 8 year old boy we were treating would have died if he had not got here when he did This is not something that would have happened in Australia. This program is invaluable because now the community know there is somewhere closer to go to before trekking out to the district hospital. I am so glad I came, my first hand experience will garner more support from Australia.”
The trained clinical officers have exams at the beginning and end of the program. Those who pass are awarded government recognized certificates and a full set of hand instruments including a sterilization unit. Armed with knowledge and basic equipment they are ready to tackle what they can in their communities.
The NGO Education and Health for All (EH4ALL) in Mwanza who work with Bridge2AidUK have a monitoring and evaluation department which ensures support for the trained clinical officers.
“I follow up on the clinical officers’ progress every three months for a period of 18 months,” says monitoring and evaluation officer Dianes Ernest.
Another director of Bridge2Aid Australia ,Grant Pierce, who is also a Director of Kibaran Resources the parent company of Tanzgraphite (TZ) Limited that is developing a graphite project in Tanzania, also visited the mission.
He thanked the volunteers and Tanzanian team and said “All the time and effort getting Bridge2Aid Australia off the ground has been worth it, just in seeing the happy faces of those who have received treatment, out of pain and in the training of the clinical officers.”
To date, 574 clinical officers have been trained and with every programmeBridge2Aid and now Bridge2Aid Australia run in collaboration with Tanzania’s District Dental Officers will continue to improve access to emergency dental treatment for rural communities in Tanzania, and get people out of pain and out of danger.