Medical outreach provides dental relief to rural Ugandan community


By Kefa Senoga
How can medical practitioners better serve a transportation and economically challenged community that travels close to 50 kilometers (31 miles) to seek dental services? 

That is one question that has been bothering the faculty at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) School of Dentistry (SoD). To get the answers, the faculty partnered with the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) of the United States, Reach Unreached Needs (RUN) Foundation and the Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) to extend a health camp to the community at Kasiso village in the central Uganda district of Luweero.

Dr. Bill Griffin interacts with some of the UCU dental students at the outreach.
Dr. Bill Griffin interacts with some of the UCU dental students at the outreach.

The camp, conducted on February 8, was composed of a team of dental specialists, as well as UCU Bachelor of Dental Surgery students who are currently conducting clinical practice as part of their degree course requirement. The specialists offered free dental services like fillings, teeth cleaning, restorations, extractions and surgeries.

“Today, they brought in a child who had undergone tooth extraction at the main hospital in Kasana,” said Joseph Lubowa Ddiba, the coordinator of Village Health Team (VHT) members in Luweero district. “Unfortunately, the child’s wound became septic. He is one of the people who have received treatment here.” 

VHTs is a group of laypeople hired by the Ugandan government to empower people in their communities to take part in making decisions that affect their health. 

Dr. Brian Rushaju, a dentist and the director of the RUN Foundation, said they found many cases of tooth decay among the people. Others had swellings and tumors, something he noted is an indication that many people in the community do not have access to dental services. 

The nearest health facility which provides dental services is Kasana Hospital. To visit the health facility, Ddiba said one needs sh30,000 (about $8) for transport for a return journey. And many of them cannot afford that. 

UCU School of Dentistry students and staff who participated in the outreach
UCU School of Dentistry students and staff who participated in the outreach

 “For someone who cannot even afford transport to the hospital, how can they pay for medical care?” Ddiba asked rhetorically, indicating that many community members treated the camp as a godsend opportunity.  

Juliet Seruyange, a resident of Kasiso village, said she received a comprehensive dental examination at the outreach. A thorough cleaning and washing of her teeth, she said, made a big difference between how she arrived for the camp and how she left. 

Dr. David Ciesla, the coordinator of HVO and a pediatric dentistry professor at the Oklahoma University in the United States, said many of the people he attended to had cavity issues. 

“What I see here is the need for providers and a combination of lack of health education,” Ciesla said, noting the need for extra training for not only the workforce, but also the patients.

Dr Arabat Kasangaki, a lecturer from the UCU SoD, said where they discovered that some of the teeth were irredeemable, they extracted them or proposed to the patients to go to the UCU School of Dentistry, where he runs a dental clinic for fourth year and fifth year SoD students. Kasangaki said at their clinic, they have dentures for those who don’t have teeth and that they can fabricate sets of teeth for people to improve their life. 

Dr. Bill Griffin, the dental director at CMDA, said at such outreach activities, he also takes the advantage to mentor UCU dental students. He noted that he has been conducting online monthly mentorship lectures for the SoD students. 

Esther Masaba, Mark Wesonga and Maria Kabogozza – some of the UCU fifth-year SoD students who were part of the people in the camp – said they completed pediatric fillings, cleanings and examinations, noting that the exercise gave them opportunity to obtain more hands-on experience. 

Griffin is currently collaborating with the faculty at the UCU SoD and specialists like Ciesla to develop a residency program that will include at least a year of learning about issues such as dental implants and sedation.