Knebworth dentist is bridging the gap in Africa
PUBLISHED: 13:29 12 October 2010 | UPDATED: 15:25 20 February 2013
Dentist Liz Stringer and nurses Su Mills and Tracey Evans closed the Village Dental Practice in Knebworth while they headed for Tanzania to transfer their dental skills to local workers. Here Liz tells readers why they can't wait to go back again
ARRIVING in Dar es Salaam on the ten hour flight from Heathrow, we spent the day at a hotel before flying up to Mwanza on Lake Victoria. Our team of 14 dentists and eight nurses were greeted by our hosts, Bridge2Aid charity directors Ian Wilson, Jo and Mark Topley, and taken to our hotel in the town. The following morning they led a comprehensive local orientation session and, in the afternoon, we visited the regional hospital in the town which caters for 13 million people.
As you can imagine, there were large numbers of people waiting patiently to be seen. We were introduced to the regional dental officer, who is employed by the Tanzanian Government and works with Bridge2Aid to coordinate the training of clinical officers. We also visited the Hope Dental Clinic where Ian Wilson works as a dentist. A whole range of patients is seen at the clinic, including many expat foreigners who work in Mwanza. The money raised here pays the Bridge2Aid staff wages and enables free treatment to be offered to the poor.
The following day we set off very early from Mwanza to the two medical centres in which we were to work. Both buildings were extremely basic, with no electricity or running water, and, because news travels fast, there were usually about 100 people waiting to be seen by 'the English dentists'. We were relieved to find the clinical officers spoke good English and were keen to learn all they could from us. They had all received three years' medical training to diploma standard and were already working in rural dispensaries, providing a basic level of medical care, including delivering babies and treating trauma. They had spent the previous three days learning basic dental anatomy and other related subjects. Over the next six working days we were amazed at their progress. Although the work was hard, with long days in hot conditions, it was satisfying to know that 12 more people will be carrying on our work, now that we have returned to the UK.
My lasting memories will be of our stoic Tanzanian patients who arrived every day and would sit patiently in the heat with their beautiful babies, never once complaining. Many of them had travelled for days to see us, having endured toothache for years. They wore their best clothes and were always polite and grateful. Somehow the lack of electricity and running water did not seem such an enormous problem and we were constantly humbled by the Tanzanians' ability to cope in adversity.
I cannot finish this account without paying tribute to dentist Ian Wilson and his wife Andie and their friends Mark and Jo Topley who set up the Bridge2Aid charity and left their family and friends to live in Tanzania to make their vision a reality.
Before anyone asks... Yes, all three of us have already booked to go again next year!