Global Health Nexus, Winter 2004
Return to Tanzania
Anthony T. Vernillo, DDS, PhD
Professor of Oral Pathology
In August 2003, an NYU-led dental team paid a return visit to Tanzania in East Africa to provide care over a three-week period to hundreds of medically indigent residents of Songea, a remote district just north of the Mozambican border. As with our initial 2001 visit to the Tanzanian village of Arusha, our return trip was sponsored by Miracle Corners of the World (MCW), a not-for-profit community development and revitalization organization, with additional generous support provided by Henry Schein, Inc.
Our team consisted of five licensed dentists, including one dentist from Zimbabwe, who is pursuing postgraduate studies in South Africa, myself, and one senior student from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. We were warmly welcomed by the District Commissioner of Songea, the Honorable Bertha Mende, and by the Honorable Health Minister Anna Margareth Abdallah, whose office struggles against tremendous odds in its efforts to oversee health care for the entire country. In Songea alone, there are only two dentists to provide care for nearly 1.2 million people, many of whom have lost relatives and friends to AIDS.
Working in an improvised dental clinic in a nearby hospital, we treated some 450 patients, including many with multiple, decayed teeth with retained root tips and acute facial infections. Each day adults and their children formed lines outside our clinic, as word spread about free dental care.
All MCW initiatives are designed for sustainability, so it was a distinct advantage to be joined by Dr. Jo Frencken of the University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands, who is an expert in Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART), a technique that he has used in other impoverished countries to successfully treat minimal carious lesions without portable equipment, electricity, or anesthesia.
We began to use this technique and also taught it to Dr. Daniel Malekela, one of the two dentists in Songea, who will subsequently train his auxiliaries. Dr. Frencken generously provided restorative glass ionomer and our team donated several sets of ART instruments and restorative material, important first steps in developing sustainability of our outreach.*
Our next outreach to Tanzania, tentatively scheduled for August 2004, will include more dentists, especially from South Africa and Tanzania, and several NYU Dentistry students. Going forward, we hope to reach out to additional African countries. To find out more about our work with MCW, please visit www.miraclecorners.org.
*GC America, Inc., generously donated glass ionomer for ART. Dr. Stan Hoovers of Henry Schein, Inc., designed the dental instruments for ART.