Global Health Nexus, Spring 2000

International Partners in Health: The Universities of Thailand

Howard H. Hamilton, International Liason
With the Assistance of Dr. Denise C. Murphy, Infection Control Coordinator and Clinical Associate Professor of CCAPA

Day is night. The sun arrives in Bangkok, Thailand, glistening off the golden domes of the temples 12 hours before dawn in New York City. People are busy arranging flowers, setting out food, and lighting joss sticks to honor ancestors at colorful Spirit Houses located outside homes and businesses. This nation rich in tradition is the only Asian country never to have been occupied by a Western power. "Thailand" means "Land of the Free."

At 62.6 million people and a GDP of $2,140 per person, Thailand is a country of extreme economic disparities in all areas, including oral health. Commendably, the Thai government has placed a priority on meeting its people's oral health needs, and despite the economic downturn of the mid-1990s, the government has maintained its commitment. With economic recovery now underway, all indications are that dentistry and dental public health in Thailand will continue to gain momentum.

NYU Dentistry strongly supports the Thai government's efforts to improve the oral health status of the Thai people. Since the early 1990s, the NYU College of Dentistry has enjoyed highly successful partnerships with Prince of Songkla University, Mahidol University, Khon Kaen University, and Chiang Mai University in Thailand. These partnerships, which are part of NYU Dentistry's mission to impact global health, bring Thai students to NYU Dentistry to study and enable NYU Dentistry faculty to travel to Thailand to lecture and to help develop effective public health strategies.

The benefits of this partnership extend to other areas as well. For example, Thai alumni of NYU Dentistry who have returned home to teach are eager to help promote the College's educational programs and to assist in interviewing prospective NYU Dentistry students by sharing their personal experiences of life at NYU Dentistry and of living in New York City -- half a world away from home.

In addition, because of geographic proximity -- Mahidol University in Bangkok is a short distance from Cambodia and Vietnam, Chiang Mai University is near Myanmar and Laos, and Khon Kaen University is close to central Laos -- the Thai universities, as part of an NYU Dentistry global network, are able to offer short courses and faculty expertise to their neighbors, thereby enabling NYU Dentistry to impact health throughout the region.

For the past two years, NYU Dentistry and its Thai dental school partners have collaborated on a project to fill a major public health need in Thailand by working together to develop systems to collect data on occupational incidents and promote practices to control the spread of both bloodborne and airborne infectious diseases. Last year, Dr. Denise Murphy, infection control coordinator at NYU Dentistry, presented lectures on the topic "Bloodborne Exposures in Dental Care Workers-Post-Exposure Management" at all of the Thai dental schools. This past December, Dr. Murphy returned to Thailand to lecture at a preconference workshop on infection control, sponsored by the Thai Dental Association.

Because of overwhelming interest in the topic, the workshop had to be moved to a larger venue than anticipated. The 325-member audience included private practitioners, private clinic owners, and dental educators. The lecture focused on infection control and also addressed the emerging issues of dental unit water line (DUWL) contamination and latex allergies.

Subsequently, Dr. Murphy presented a three-hour lecture, "Principles of Infection Control," to more than 300 students and faculty at Mahidol University, followed by a one-day workshop entitled "Occupational Post-Exposure Management." To facilitate the audience members' ability to implement the data collection and analysis techniques presented, all relevant printed materials were translated into the Thai language.

NYU Dentistry's partnership with the dental faculties of the distinguished universities of Thailand is enabling the dissemination of techniques that will help to reduce occupational exposure to infectious diseases, identify national and international patterns of exposure, and develop effective strategies for prevention. Equally exciting, our partnership is succeeding in eliminating boundaries in the global village and connecting international dentists and dental students to resources and opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.