Kenya is a dream destination for many tourists, but for many residents, it is a country lacking in medical and dental care. Dr. Peter Dierck, general secretary at Dentists for Africa e.V., fights to change that. In this interview, he describes how difficult it is for the local people to receive dental care and the steps he and his team have taken to provide it.
Dentists for Africa was established more than 15 years ago. What was your goal?
Our basic goal was and still is to provide qualified and sustainable dental care to disadvantaged people in Kenya. Since the beginning of the association, we’ve been able to set up 13 dental stations, we have a sponsorship program to promote schooling for orphans, and we founded a project for widows—most of whom are HIV-positive—to join forces to improve the lives of their families.
What are the main humanitarian problems with which Kenya is struggling?
Besides war, hunger, and extreme poverty in Kenya, there is a big gap especially in the dental and medical field. In large parts of East Africa, dental care and understanding of oral hygiene is virtually non-existent, and for most of the people there going to the dentist is a luxury they cannot afford.
“In large parts of East Africa, dental care and understanding of oral hygiene is virtually non-existent, and for most of the people there going to the dentist is a luxury they cannot afford.”
The concept of Dentists for Africa was designed from the beginning to provide help to others to help themselves. Does it work?
Yes, it works very well. By training Kenyan dental students, oral health officers, dental technicians, and medical engineers we make sure that every dental clinic has professional staff. We have also been cooperating with the local Franciscan nuns for many years; without their support such a complex organization would not be feasible.
For example, Sister Fabian is one of the nuns who completed training as a dentist through our association. She now runs the dental station in Kisii and also coordinates our projects. Each dental station has at least one oral health officer (OHO), a kind of dentist who has completed three years of training.
It is particularly gratifying that we can gain the professional staff from our sponsorship program, as 124 orphans completed their vocational training in 2015 and some of them have entered directly into our projects. Two of the orphans are currently even completing a dental university study program.
How do local communities respond to the offered dental care?
Feedback from patients and doctors is very positive, and the gratitude of the Kenyan people is overwhelming.
I remember well, when an elderly gentleman came to us complaining of pain. After a thorough examination, we found that some teeth had to be extracted. The man was overjoyed after treatment that we could free him from his pain. Shortly before we left he gave us a huge banana tree and waved at us until our car disappeared beyond the horizon. It was a very touching moment for me.
“The man was overjoyed after treatment that we could free him from his pain.”
Our most lasting effect can be achieved by helping the children and raising awareness about oral hygiene and dental diseases. In this context, we distribute dental care products (toothbrushes and toothpaste) to children and explain their application in a fun way. If necessary, we perform dental treatments at our stations, of course with the appropriate parental consent.
How does your association finance its many projects and relief operations?
Funding depends largely on material and monetary donations. Last year, the companies Henry Schein and KaVo have cooperated to make the donation of a digital panoramic X-ray unit possible. The unit is a very important addition to our station in Kisii: A lot of patients come to our practice with skull and jaw fractures resulting from motorcycle accidents. The local team can now make accurate diagnoses with the new panoramic radiograph and derive specific tailored treatments for these patients.
What will be the most important tasks of Dentists for Africa in the near future? What activities are still planned?
We are constantly receiving and reviewing requests for new dental stations, we are preparing a new central warehouse in Kisii to supply nearby stations with materials, and we will continue to conduct out technical seminars like the Digital X-Ray seminar this fall.
How can HHH Blog readers help?
- If you are a dentist, dental assistant, or dental technician, by attending an emergency operation
- If you are not a dentist or physician, through support of the sponsorship and widow project, or better yet through a personal sponsorship of an orphan
- Through donations
- Through membership in the association and by accepting responsibility for subprojects
- By your dental office’s participation in the precious metal donation drive
- Find out about how to help and learn more online in German and in English, or by emailing email@example.com.