We frequently see just how much damage a lack of simple dental knowledge and access to basic treatment can do in rural communities. Hidden by geography many hundreds of miles from the decision makers, huge swathes of the community suffer untreated pain, with no hope of help.
But this story has even affected many of the Bridge2Aid team, who have seen more than their share of tragic tales. In short – a 12 year old boy, scarred for life, in agony, and according to our clinicians, had he not come across our programme in February, at serious risk of death through septicaemia. This is Petro’s story.
On one side of his face the skin was taut, bright and healthy – as the skin of a 12-year-old should be. On the other side, his skin looked like it had aged 70 years; rough, distressed and tired.
Petro’s mother was visibly upset, as any mother would be. She felt helpless. Petro was crying, holding his right cheek; petrified.
Over the past month Petro had been taken by his parents to see the local witch doctor about the worsening pain he had been experiencing in his cheek.
The witch doctor, professing to know what was causing the pain, had repeatedly stabbed and cut Petro’s cheek with a razor blade and then proceeded to rub into the wounds a black powder; a concoction of ground charcoal, dried leaves and other ingredients. He had done this on each of Petro’s three visits; the pain gradually increased.
Petro had missed a lot of school, only attending for about three days, even in a good week. The rest of the time he spent sleeping at home unable to concentrate on anything other than the intense pain.
The Bridge2Aid training team met them in Nyang’hwale district in February 2015. His mother explained that after the failed attempt by the witch doctor they had no other choice than to save, borrow and beg money that would enable them to take Petro to see a doctor at the district hospital; they were now in the process of gathering together the funds.
At no point had anyone identified that Petro’s pain was being caused by a dental issue. The family intended to see a medical doctor at the district hospital who then, presuming the problem was correctly identified, would have had to refer Petro to the District Dental Officer; a procedure which may have taken considerable time – possibly weeks; and multiple journeys to and from the hospital; all costing the family time and money which they did not have. More seriously, it would have cost precious time – time that Petro did not have.
The Bridge2Aid team identified the cause of Petro’s pain as a dental abscess – something that once correctly diagnosed can be simply treated with antibiotics and an extraction. Exactly the sort of treatment that we are striving to make available for people like Petro through the training of rural government Health Workers in Emergency Dental Treatment.
Petro is scarred for life physically and, after his experiences, no doubt mentally scarred too. Petro’s story highlights the serious need for Health Workers trained in simple Emergency Dentistry in the rural clinics. Only by chance was the Bridge2Aid training programme being carried out in the area in which Petro lived, though unfortunately for Petro it was a little too late.
Luckily for Petro’s friends, should they experience a similar problem in the future they will not have to endure a series of traumatic experiences and neither will their education have to suffer as a result. They will be able to access immediate, safe, affordable treatment by a rural health worker who will have been properly trained in what action to take.