Ihsan Foundation volunteers assisting during set-up at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a West African country with a population of over 6 million. According to the Medical and Dental Council of Sierra Leone, there are only 5 registered dentists operating in the country. This presents one of the lowest dentist to patient ratios around the world, at only one dentist per over one million patients. TeamMiswak traveled to Sierra Leone to provide 5 days of free treatment, with a team of oral surgeons, dentists, dental hygienists, and volunteers from both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Since the end of the nearly decade long civil war that plagued the country, Sierra Leone is no longer prominent in West African news. Our team of enthusiastic dentists, dental hygienists, and pre-dental volunteers, however, jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the Ihsan Foundation of West Africa. This dental relief trip served to provide basic dental care and life changing oral surgery procedures to an impoverished population.
Kambia was the first stop on the team’s journey, in a rural region of northern Sierra Leone, neighboring Guinea closely. Along with numerous scattered villages, this beautiful area houses the modest Kambia District Government Hospital, based in Kambia Town and alarmingly serving a population of over 300,000 patients. It was starkly evident upon arrival that our team would face several challenges. With just a room to work from, a sterilization table was constructed and six dental chairs were set up. Our oral surgeon, Dr. Shuaib Malik, began treating two patients simultaneously. The other chairs were dedicated to Dr. Ala Dean Attar, Dr. Sadiyah Ahmad and Dr. Safiyah Saleh, as well as Dr. David Idris Kamara, one of only five registered dentists in Sierra Leone. Dr. Kamara kindly traveled across the country from the capital of Freetown to serve in the dental mission.
Jordan Farnham, a dental hygienist from the Chicago area, was heavily involved in triaging patients as well as providing our patients with vital oral hygiene instruction alongside kits that had been pre-prepared for the patients. This was no easy task, however Jordan overcame the language barrier and long queue of people waiting in the baking sun, some having walked miles from their villages, and facilitated the dentists’ treatment incredibly.
After seeing only two patients, it became apparent what the most significant dental need would be in Kambia, Exodontia. A young female presented with a large facial swelling that was fast approaching the size of a soccer ball, something that would very rarely be seen in the western world, and had been living with this life threatening facial abscess for 6 months. Dr Shuaib Malik successfully treated this patient; this was how the next two days in Kambia were predominantly spent, relieving the patients of their dental pain, with just minimal restorative work. Despite restraints on sterilization times and equipment, our trip coordinator Hajjah Kamara and pre-dental student Sufian Mahmoud assisted the dentists diligently. Over just two days, approximately 250 patients were treated in Kambia and nearby Mange Bureh. The efforts of the Miswak team were recognized and commended by District Council and Parliamentary members from across the region.
|Miswak Foundation volunteer Jordan Farnham providing valuable oral hygiene instruction to a Friday congregation in Calaba Town|
After a short one-day rest period, our team traveled to Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. Immediately, the difference between the two regions was noticeable, with the capital appearing to have that slightly more affluent touch to it, along with a large increase in population density. The first day of treatment in Freetown involved the Miswak team travelling to Calaba Town, a relatively poor town on the outskirts of the city. Here, the Ihsan Foundation had a Community Clinic set up nearby a Masjid and Orphanage. By far, this day was the most challenging, with extreme space limitations for the dental team, alongside the sweltering heat. The Miswak team worked continuously to provide free dental care to over 100 patients whilst Qur’an was harmoniously recited across the street, prior to the Friday sermon. An opportunity arose to educate the Friday congregation, and extend the oral health information provision to a larger spectrum of people. Jordan and Sufian provided excellent demonstrations and information to the congregation, and the dentists were able to answer their questions regarding oral hygiene, providing a highly beneficial and interactive educational session.
The last two days were spent in Connaught Hospital’s Oral Health Department in Freetown. Connaught Hospital is the largest hospital in the country, and provided an enhanced atmosphere for our dental team to work in, with actual designated dental chairs, as well as autoclave facilities. With but one day remaining, the Miswak team was faced with the challenge of dental supplies running thin. Further supplies were sought locally to ensure that the mission could be fully completed. An unfortunate case of Oral Cancer was seen during their stay at Connaught. This was once again a harsh reminder to the team of exactly how dire the need for dental treatment is in Sierra Leone.
After having treated a patient base with a huge array of dental problems and differing levels of dental education, Miswak Foundation’s Dental Relief team attended to over 500 patients successfully at a cost of under $15 per patient. With great team chemistry and comradery, they enjoyed every single experience of the Sierra Leone Dental Relief Trip.
Source: Miswak Foundation – Dr. Sadiyah Firdaus Ahmad, UK, a Miswak Foundation team member, contributed to this report.