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  1. World Oral Health Day

    March 17, 2015

    The annual World Oral Health Day comes up again this Friday.

    If like me, you’re not a dentist, your response may well be ‘so what?’ It’s not an unexpected one given the level of other disease around the world. So why is Oral Health important?

    What I’ve observed over the past 12 years I’ve been in this field, is that the main reason oral health and access to dentistry isn’t seen as important is because we take it for granted.

    Let’s face it, sugar consumption in the past 30 years has rocketed in the UK, and yet the level of dental disease hasn’t. Caries rates in children seem to be coming down (although there are still far too many kids needing extractions). On the whole, people understand that they need to brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss, visit the dentist regularly, and cut back on sugar. Whether they choose to do it is another matter.

    And so we’ve got very comfortable in the UK with a situation where our oral health is pretty good, and if we do have a problem, we’ve got somewhere we can go to get prompt help.

    However, we’re in the minority – by a long way.

    There are still more than 70% of the world living without the chance of any kind of help when they have a dental problem. These people, mostly living in the rural areas of developing countries, have little understanding of oral health care, access to toothpaste or even that sugar is bad for your teeth.

    We’ve shared it before, but I keep coming back to this boy – Petro. You can read his story here.

    IMG_1182For me he sums up why Oral Health is important – because without education, understanding, prevention, and crucially in this case, ready access to treatment, life becomes miserable and impossible for billions of people every year.

    And that’s why World Oral Health Day is important. For those of us fortunate to have the huge privilege of understanding how to care for our mouths, and ready access to pain relief – we should be celebrating the dental profession and the good oral health we enjoy.

    At the same time, 20th March gives us an opportunity to raise awareness  of the plight of those for whom even access to dental pain relief is impossible.

    Giving children like Petro and their families a way out of pain by training their local Health Worker in emergency dentistry is our priority. It’s great that the training we provide gives us the platform to educate communities about how to avoid problems as well. Slowly but surely, together with our fantastic volunteers (who will train the 350th Health Worker this week), we’re bringing the very fundamentals of what we take for granted in the UK to more and more communities.

    Mark Topley, CEO @Mark_Topley

  2. Under the hood

    February 17, 2015


    Last week I took the day to visit one of the Dental Volunteer Programme Training teams working with us for 2 weeks.

    It’s something I find rewarding, exhausting and heartbreaking, even after 10 years. And this day was no exception. It was however fantastic to have our God-Daughter Grace with me. Grace is living with us for 3 months in her pre-Uni Gap Year and having a great time.

    We travelled what should have been 3 hours south-west of Mwanza, but because of the erratic ferry at Busisi at the moment, which you need to cross Mwanza Sound, turned into 5 and a half. There was a good 2 hours drive after the ferry, rattling down 80 miles of pot-holed roads that took us further and further away from urban civilisation through countless small rural communities. Eventually we arrived at Ny’angwale Health Centre – the main medical facility for over 15,000 people.

    It reminded me of one of our first ever training centres – Kabila – a village around 2 hours from my home in Mwanza. Remote, poor, beautiful, and serving a very large number of people. I guess I am reflecting more on the early days now that a move back to the UK (but not a change of job) is only a few months away. I’m certainly entering that period of mixed feelings that comes as you approach your departure as an Expat. Those who have gone before will identify – it’s a mixture of pride and sadness.

    IMG_6988Pride was definitely the dominant emotion when we arrived on site. Everything working like clockwork, both the volunteer team and our Bridge2Aid guys doing an amazing job, and already a big number of patients seen. They had decided to close off at 80 patients today (the second of four at this centre) to focus on the training of the local Health Workers.

    Entering the clinic, I met the Medical Officer in charge, who thanked me profusely for sending the team.’There are so many people suffering in this area because of dental problems’ he said. The queue outside and the looks on their faces bore testament to his words.

    The Clinical Lead, Brian, reported they had received visits from the main sponsors of this programme (and the one in Tarime), Acacia Mining, whose Bulyanhulu Mine is nearby. My thanks once again to Acacia for continuing to fund our work – we could not do it without them. As well as these guests, various government officials had also visited. The overwhelming feedback from our visitors – everyone is very impressed and delighted we are here.

    Seeing DVP in action is a wonderful sight. A team that met each other only 2 days ago working together like they do this every week of the year. People having their pain relieved and leaving the clinic with huge gratitude on their faces, finally free of the suffering that will have lasted months.

    But for this to IMG_6982happen – there is an incredible amount of work that goes into a DVP.

    Things have changed a great deal from those first programmes in places like Kabila.

    Although essentially we still do the same thing, the development of the programme, the numbers that we run each year, and the rolling organisation required to simultaneously prepare for 8-9 programmes all at different stages of planning, and follow up on an equal number, in far flung parts of what is a massive country, is enormous. There is a huge amount of work that goes into making each programme a success (96% pass rate last year), and that level of detail is just what achieves it, and ensures volunteers come back again and again (see my last post).

    We recently sat down and wrote out a summary of all the things that happen for a DVP to communicate to donors just what an undertaking one programme is. There is a mind-boggling series of things that the team do in Tanzania and the UK to produce a 96% pass rate and a 95% volunteer satisfaction level.

    For example, just one job in the packing stage (a stage which takes days to complete) is to identify the glove size of each volunteer trainer and nurse, each trainee clinical officer, and the Bridge2Aid team who also wear gloves in clinic, calculate the approximate number each person will need for 9 days, and pack the appropriate number in the boxes. We’re 5 hours from town – we cant afford to run out. Bear in mind that there is a 100-odd stage checklist for each DVP you get the idea of how much is involved!

    What this means is that 10 years after we started, although the DVP looks the same, what is ‘under the hood’ is very, very different. More co-ordination, a bigger team, greater distances and the resources to support it all are essential to maintain the same high levels of impact for the community that we have always aimed for. It’s great to see it working so well.

  3. ITI boost for Bridge2Aid

    February 15, 2015

    429210_283104761761065_1937890286_nWe are delighted that the ITI (International Team for Implantology) have donated a stand at their forthcoming ITI UK and Ireland Congress which takes place in London next month (6-7 March).

    We are very grateful to the committee for allowing us to exhibit and attend the event which will give us the opportunity to see our current Bridge2Aid supporters who are Fellows and Members, and meet new ones and talk about the volunteer trainer and support opportunities with Bridge2Aid.

    The International Team for Implantology (ITI) is a leading academic organization dedicated to the promotion of evidence-based education and research in implant dentistry. There are more than 16,000 ITI Fellows and Members worldwide who regularly share their knowledge and expertise from research and clinical practice with the objective of continuously improving treatment methods and outcomes. It also funds research and scholarships, organizes congresses and study clubs, publishes reference books and runs the ITI Online Academy.

    If you’re coming to the event please come and see us (stand number to follow). Full details can be found at You can follow ITI on Twitter @ITI_org or on Facebook.


  4. Volunteers & the Long View

    February 10, 2015

    We welcomed our latest Dental Volunteer Programme teams to Mwanza last night. Before they set out to the remote rural areas at different ends of the Lake Zone, we had dinner together on the shores of Lake Victoria.

    There are several returning volunteers on this trip, including Barry Devonald who is here for an incredible 12th time. I took the opportunity to ask some of them why they keep coming back and why after so many years they are so committed to the Bridge2Aid model. Here are their thoughts.

    If you would like to volunteer with Bridge2Aid click here.

  5. Save Money Whilst supporting Bridge2Aid – Why wouldn’t you?

    February 6, 2015


    Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 06.55.57


    Bridge2Aid has teamed up with Lloyds Bank Cardnet and Merchant Rentals to offer you a card processing deal that will save you money on your processing costs, and save you money on your handset rental, whilst donating money to Bridge2Aid. Every time a patient uses a debit or credit card at Reception, Lloyds Cardnet will make a donation on your behalf.

    To find out how this will save you money, click here: LLoyds scheme leaflet

    Benefits of the Scheme

    Low cost handset rental –Incredibly low monthly charges – starting at just £11.99 a month.

    Card services MOT – Lloyds will assess your practice and suggest the best machine for you. This may be wireless, contactless, or just a simple counter-top.

    3 months free – When you sign up, you will get the first 3 months rental for free.

    Easy set-up – Simply say you would like to get involved, and Lloyds will do the rest.

    Great PR – It is an easy way to tell your patients that you are a bit different and that you support our work.


    Catherine Tannahill of The Smile Rooms in Yorkshire said of the scheme:

    “The team at The Smile Rooms were delighted to be able to support Bridge2Aid by using the Merchant Giving Scheme via Lloyds banking. For every card transaction by our patients, the practice is making a donation to this worthwhile cause. It was easy to arrange and install – just a few forms to fill in and minimal disruption. It is great PR for the practice and we have had the added bonus of saving money on our existing rates – Everyone’s a winner!”


    This is a really easy way to donate regularly to our work, and make a massive difference in East Africa. Once you sign up, Lloyds will transfer money raised to Bridge2Aid with no need for any action from you.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 07.07.26

  6. Home-brew and an extraction anyone?….

    January 13, 2015


    John 1John is 45 years old; he lives in Tabani village, Butiama district, in the northern Lake Zone of Tanzania with his wife and two children. John is a farmer and grows maize and other crops for both feeding his family and for selling any surplus at market. Having been in pain for a whole year, John decided to walk for an hour to visit someone he knew locally who had served as a medical officer in the army. The retired army officer was well-known in the area and no doubt respected due to his army officer status. Every Saturday he used to set up a stall at the local market where he sold home brewed beer and offered people extractions…

    Despite having limited dental knowledge, the retired army medical officer carried out an extraction for which he charged John Tsh5000 (£1.90).

    Five months after receiving the extraction, John began to feel pain on the side where he had had the extraction and a fistula was beginning to develop. John returned to the army officer who refused to give him any further help; refusing to acknowledge that it was the extraction that he had done that had caused a problem in the first case. For John, the pain got worse and worse and eventually was so bad he was unable to work on his farm. As the head of the household and the main provider for the family this put his family in a very difficult and stressful situation; because he wasn’t working on his farm, he and his family struggled financially and for food.John 3

    After seeing a poster in his village advertising the dental training programme, John walked for an hour to see the training team at Buhemba health centre where the training was taking place. The team found that some roots had been left in place following the extraction and an infection had developed. Unable to do anything for him on site, the team referred him to the District Dental Officer.

    John 2Although the team were unable to remove the remaining roots for him during the training, John is now in the capable hands of the District Dental Officer. An important part of the training is teaching limitations; Clinical Officers are taught at what point they should be referring a patient case. Had there been a trained Clinical Officer available locally for John to see in the first instance, he would not have had to endure nearly a year and half of pain and financial struggles for his family; the Clinical Officer would have either identified the fact that John’s case needed to be referred on immediately or would have been able to extract the tooth safely and correctly.

    During 2015, Bridge2aid will be continuing training in the northwest Lake Zone of Tanzania and the northeast Manyara region and will also be expanding the training programme into 3 new regions in the east of the country. 48 additional Clinical Officers will undergo training by Bridge2aid volunteer dentists and nurses. With each Clinical Officer serving a rural community of around 10,000 people, 480,000 people like John will be provided with access to safe emergency dental care and will not have to resort to risk being treated by untrained personnel like the home-brew peddling, retired army medical officer who in trying to make a quick buck made John and his family’s situation even more of a struggle.

  7. The Push

    Without any need for violins – last year was tough.

    This is a particularly difficult time to be running a charity (or anything for that matter), and especially a charity which works outside of the mainstream, and particularly when there are emergencies like Ebola contributing to ‘compassion fatigue’ in the UK.

    I don’t think I’m alone. Reading Social Media and chatting to friends, lots of people have had rough times, and many are continuing to face them.

    Please understand, I’m not bleating – I don’t have time for whiners. By all means get it off your chest when something goes wrong, but I’m a firm believer that once that’s done then it’s time to get on with tackling things and put your best foot forward.

    But when things seem to stack up against you constantly, and a few weeks of struggle turns into months, it gets harder and harder to dig deep.

    That’s when you need the push.

    Thinking about this over the holiday (aren’t holidays fantastic for giving you perspective once you let your brain quiet down?), I remembered a story from the Kilimanjaro climb I did back in 2011.


    The climb was led by the legend that is Henk Blanckenburg – a towering man mountain who has been up and down Kilimanjaro more times than I’ve had hot dinners. I think my friends on the climb would agree with me that it was Henk’s belief in us, instilled in typical Henk fashion (‘this is going to be the best night of your lives!!!’) before the final climb that got most of us up to the top (we all summited by the way).

    But it was a story Henk told of a previous climb when we chatted over a beer after our trip up and down Kili was over, which sticks with me.

    He had led an event the year before with a group of around 16 young people, and had got delayed with half the group on the initial ascent of the scree slope. This is a painful and laborious section of the summit which takes around 8 hours overnight. After the scree you reach Gilman’s Point, and from there it’s another 2 hours on and 200m up to Uhuru Peak – the actual summit of Kilimanjaro.

    Once he reached Gilman’s and daylight came, Henk left the stragglers with the Tanzanian Guides and headed off to try and find the group who had gone ahead. After about an hour, he was surprised to find them walking down the path towards him, tired and deflated.

    They explained that they had got to Stellar Point, around halfway between Gilman’s and Uhuru, and found it too tough – they were exhausted, had really bad headaches and were throwing up.

    He checked them over for injuries, made sure they had plenty of water, and then looked into their eyes to make sure there were no signs of severe mountain sickness. Seeing nothing, his words to them then stick with me every time I get into a tough spot.

    ‘Now listen to me’ he told them, ‘you’ve come this far. You get one chance at this and once chance only. There is nothing wrong with any of you. Now turn the f*ck around and get back up that mountain…’

    Sometimes you need a push. Someone who believes in you and can see beyond your frustration, your exhaustion, your tears, and tell you to get on with it.

    I’m so grateful for the people who’ve done this for me in the past year. They’re still there and I know they will continue to push me through the undoubted challenges that are ahead in 2015. I’m glad I have close friends and mentors that do that for me. I hope I do a good job encouraging others and giving them the push when they need it.

    All of the young climbers made it by the way. It’s funny what someone’s belief in you can do. And in turn what others can achieve when you show you believe in them…

  8. 10 years on – a Tanzanian perspective

    December 16, 2014

    It’s one thing for us to say what we do works. But what about the partners we work with, those on the ground with the responsibility of ensuring it does?

    We talked to Dr Samuel Kalongoji – the District Dental Officer who worked with us to set up the Dental Training Programme about his thoughts, 10 years on.


  9. A mother’s pain…

    December 5, 2014

    MektridaMektrida: Mother of three, wife, cook, cleaner, firewood gatherer, collector of water, farmer.




    Debora 1Deborah: Mother of five, wife, cook, cleaner, firewood gatherer, collector of water farmer, local trader.




    Mariam 3Mariam: Mother of six, widower, cook, cleaner, firewood gatherer, collector of water, farmer.




    20140912_095123Metodia: Mother of seven, wife, cook, cleaner, firewood gatherer, collector of water, farmer.






    The list of roles and responsibilities goes on…educator, market seller, carer of elderly…

    As well as their extensive list of roles and responsibilities, the above four women have several other things in common;

    • Mektrida: three months in dental pain, unable to work and is only able to eat porridge because of the pain.
    • Deborah: three months in dental pain, unable to work and has not eaten for 3 days due to the pain.
    • Mariam: one year in dental pain, unable to work and has a reduced food intake due to the pain.
    • Metodia:  five years in dental pain, unable to work and eats only porridge, due to pain.

    All four women, suffering in pain because there was no safe dental care available to them locally, at a cost they could afford.

    Four women in pain means 21 children and three husbands  may miss out on decent food to eat and water to drink because their wife/mother is unable to cook. 21 children who may now have to miss school, stay at home and do housework because their mother is unable to do jobs around the house.  Three husbands who might have to take time away from earning an income or farming to help at home with the children which again might mean that the family cannot afford to attend school or even eat.

    Some 62% of patients attending dental training programmes are female. When asked, the majority of women refer to their livelihood as ‘farming’ however women in Tanzania traditionally have additional huge responsibilities within the household. When these women are disabled by dental pain, the consequences not only impact upon food provision and therefore their families’ nutrition, but also affects their ability to care for their children, collect water, firewood, clean the house, prepare food, go to market – all of the other domestic chores that are traditionally done by the women of the household.  This is why access to safe emergency dental care in the rural areas is vital so that the health, nutrition, education and livelihoods of women like Metodia, Deborah, Mariam and Mektrida AND their large dependent families are not impacted by dental pain.

  10. dental pain: costing an education

    December 4, 2014

    Agnes came with her mother to the training programme in the remote Tarime, Mara region in October 2014. She had a swelling on the right hand side of her jaw and was obviously in a lot of pain. She had walked with her mother for half an hour to reach the training programme from her village.
    For the last year, Agnes has been unable to sleep at night; she has only been able to eat porridge and has also had to take days off school because her pain was so bad.
    Agnes is only 7 years old. Agness 3
    Like Agnes, 16% of patients visiting a Bridge2Aid dental training programme are students. The majority (68%) of patients attending a dental training programme only have a primary school education, 18% have had no formal education and only 11% have a secondary education.
    15% of the patients questioned said that the dental pain had affected their education; of those, 8% failed to attend school, 6% said the pain reduced their ability to concentrate on their studies and 1% said it prevented them from allowing them to prepare for exams that would allow them to continue to next year’s classes.
    Education is already beyond the budget of many rural Tanzanian families; it is estimated that 15-20% of children under the age of 15 in Tanzania do not go to school1 due to reasons such as not having the correct school uniforms and equipment, to having to help with agricultural work or looking after younger siblings. Agness 2
    Based on our previous programme data, another 8% of primary aged children in the rural areas of Tanzania potentially will not attend school due to dental pain.
    Agnes was one of the lucky ones. The Clinical Officer found that she had a badly decayed, broken tooth which was causing the pain and the swelling and removed it. The Clinical Officer also gave Agnes and her mother some oral health information which will help them to prevent the same problem happening in the future.
    Agnes is now able to return to school, sleep at night and eat again properly, thanks to the Bridge2Aid dental training programme.