- Mark Topley, CEO
This week I’m in the UK again – 14 packed days talking about what we’re doing and why – and why people should be concerned about the millions in pain worldwide every day because of untreated dental disease.
Because I am often in the UK, some people comment that I travel a lot. And that’s true. It’s not for the fun of it (although I do enjoy the travel), and it is also good to see people, and I count it a privilege that many of my good friends are people that I work with – united in taking Bridge2Aid and our impact for communities in pain forward. There are some things you really can’t do on Skype or by phone, and so travel is an important part of the cycle of my role.
But reflecting last weekend on the forthcoming trip – my 4th trip in 6 months – and another 14 days away from the family (bringing the total to 43 so far this year in what I expect to be 72 nights in 2014), it got me thinking again about why I travel.
It’s certainly demanding – over the next 2 weeks I will pretty much be in back to back meetings or on the way to one, or on the phone with people I just couldn’t fit in, or donors we work with in Tanzania who I need to catch up with. It will be busy morning till night. I’ve spent the past month lining up a large number of opportunities, and now it’s time to get ‘on stage’ and make the most of them.
I’ll see a big cross section of people – there are a number of politicians, peers and foreign government representatives. There are senior leaders in the dental industry’s biggest groups and companies. I’ll meet with the people who manage our grants for the foundations that support us, and many others whose advice, support and counsel we rely on to take us forward.
All this work is really important – because what we are trying to do at Bridge2Aid is wake the world up to a hidden problem that exists day to day in communities thousands of miles from the offices, coffee shops, embassies (and the odd palace) I will be in over the next 2 weeks. It happens to relate to teeth (which is why we are a dental charity), but it’s a problem which is much more about a fundamental injustice – the lack of access to medical treatment for chronic and excruciating pain caused by the world’s most common disease.
The long days, many road and rail miles, lack of sleep and nights away from the family are all brought into context as I rewind to my reason ‘Why?’.
It’s why I carry this picture with me nowadays.
Taken at one of our treatment and training clinics, it sums up for me very powerfully why we need to be in people’s faces with the issue of untreated dental pain. Without the NHS, antibiotics and education, this could be my grandmother – or yours. Before the services and medication that we now take for granted in the UK were widely available, this kind of anguish was widespread, and serious. Wind back only a few hundred years, and the second largest cause of death in the 16th century (after the plague), was sepsis from untreated dental infections.
And yet in many parts of the world, we allow the same conditions to exist. And without basic treatment and access to antibiotics, a similar scenario prevails. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
So, as I type this in the airport on my way to Blighty, it’s time to switch on, focus and get my head down – time to make the most of every opportunity and bring in the support we need to train rural-based health workers to be in the right places to provide the simple treatment that so many people need, and access to which would transform their quality of life.
I need to get in front of people who will never see this first hand to help them understand, to get them to support.
And that’s why I travel so much.