Ten years in pain

Posted in: Articles, by Rachel Purdy, on 7th November 2014 | Comments Off on Ten years in pain

“How many wives?” Bridge2Aid’s Stellah asked William again just to make sure she had heard correctly. “Fifteen wives and 45 children (21 boys and 24 girls)” replied William proudly, smiling to show a mouthful of discoloured, very-decayed-looking teeth.

10 years in pain_william1
William (74), like most living in his village in rural Magu district, is a farmer, though he has a bigger farm than most; 20 hectares on which he keeps 15 goats and grows cotton, maize and millet – necessary to feed his huge family. He visited the Bridge2Aid training programme in November 2012 at the Igalukiro site in Magu district having been in dental pain for an astonishing 10 years.

Ten years of dental pain is unthinkable, unthinkable that is to those of us who are able to pick up the phone or book an emergency appointment online with our local dentist. William, however, like 75% of Tanzania’s population living in the rural areas does not have that luxury. William told us that he wasn’t entirely sure where he should go about his teeth and besides, he shrugged with a depressed acceptance, the treatment would be too expensive for me to afford anyway.

William’s presumptions are sadly correct; a trip to the district dental officer based in Magu’s urban hospital could cost him the equivalent of eight days income, a six hour round trip, an overnight stay, plus more to pay for the actual treatment. For him and many others like him, feeding and caring for his large family is his priority, travelling to the district dental officer is simply not an option. His available options are grim; visit unskilled personnel who are willing to ‘have a go’, endless painkillers or to see the traditional local Witchdoctor for their potions and spells.

Faustine sold half of his farm to get dental care

Faustine sold half of his farm to get dental care

Faustine (40) is testament to the harsh realities of suffering from dental pain in the rural areas. He visited our dental training programme in September 2014 in Bukoba. Having suffered for 5 years and feeling hopeless, he had resorted to visiting untrained personnel. A bodged extraction left him with even more pain and a huge swelling the size of a fist on the right hand side of his face. The excruciating pain meant that he was unable to farm his bananas and cassava, which had left him with no income and no food with which to provide for his family. They were completely dependent on others around them, his reputation in tatters. In desperation Faustine decided to sell half of his farm for Tsh100,000 (£37) so he could afford to make the two hour journey and get treatment from the district dental officer at the district hospital. Faustine made the trip but once there he was devastated to find that he still did not have enough money to afford treatment so he returned home.

Almost half (45%) of the patients interviewed on Bridge2Aid training programmes in 2014 said that dental pain had affected their work in some way; either by preventing them from working completely (22%) or by affecting their performance at work (78%). With 80% of the Tanzanian population dependant on subsistence agriculture, these statistics are significant; when a farmer is unable to tend to his or her crop or feed the livestock, the result is simple but crippling; the farmer’s family, who are dependent on the crops or the livestock for food for the coming months, will go hungry.

William’s and Faustines’ stories of huge dependent families and years in pain are unfortunately all-too-frequently seen on Bridge2Aid dental training programmes. The consequences of a lack of access to affordable, safe dental care leads to unnecessary suffering and for many like Faustine, means a damaged livelihood and reputation and an unsightly, painful swelling.

Bridge2Aid is this year celebrating ten years of training Clinical Officers in emergency dental care. Their efforts mean that Faustine’s and William’s families and thousands more like them will not have to endure what their fathers have been through.

William has returned to care for his large family, free of the pain that has bothered him for the last 10 years and Bridge2Aid will be following Faustine’s progress and supporting his future treatment.

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