February was a momentous month in the history of Bridge2Aid.
The month saw the 25th DVP (Dental Volunteer Programme) in Tanzania. The time since we started in 2004 has simply flown by and it is hard to believe that we have reached this stage. Over the past 7 years DVP has made a huge impact – around 1.8 million people now have access to a safe extraction within reach of their homes.
It’s important to remember that DVP was created from nothing in 2004. It was simply an idea that we thought could work. The government in Tanzania had a huge need to train clinical officers (local health workers) in emergency dentistry – a desperately needed service in the rural areas where most people live – and DVP was a possible solution.
Seven years on, the team and I remain as committed as ever to not only delivering the programme in Tanzania but extending it to other parts of the region, and indeed the world.
Dental caries is the world’s most common disease, but more than 70% of the world’s population have no access to simple dental pain relief. Since 60% of people living in a developing country will typically suffer from dental pain during the course of the year, this leaves millions without access to help. Where we live in East Africa, around 72 million people will suffer from dental pain this year, the vast majority without any hope of access to help.
A dentist friend of mine told me recently that in the 16th century in England, the second highest cause of death after the plague was death from sepsis due to dental disease. Here we are in the 20th century and surely things would have moved on? Sadly, where similar conditions exist of a lack of access to antibiotics, a lack of access to simple extraction, people can, and still do die from untreated dental infections.
Faced with this desperate situation, many of the dental volunteers that we talk to simply want to make a difference. The tragedy is with a few exceptions, I have not seen many well meaning volunteer programmes succeed in the long term in meeting that desire, unless the volunteering experience includes training.
Development is about partnership, and the need for us to be the solution to the problem has to be resisted – we have to train.
As much as we all want our efforts to last, they will not unless we build in sustainability. In my experience of working and living in East Africa for almost 9 years, sacrifice made with good intentions, but without thought for building capacity, will simply disappear.
It is for that reason that Bridge2Aid remain so committed to DVP as a model. Not only do our volunteers relieve the pain of thousands of people while they are with us, more importantly, they pass on key skills to someone who can carry on the service year in year out, treating their own communities. It is this sort of capacity building which is vital if development is to take place.
The first 25 DVPs took 7 years to deliver; the next 25 will take less than 3. If people continue to join with us, bringing their contribution to the Bridge2Aid family, and helping to build a legacy, together we will provide a long lasting way out of pain for millions of people who desperately need it.
Who’s with us?