It’s a rapid-fire dental service this year! A mere 3 weeks after Team 2’s return, Team 3 has now completed a lightning trip to TL, leaving scores of happier people in their wake.
The Australian contingent of the team all hail from Darwin – Team Leader, Dr Ashley Freeman, returnee, Dr Stephanie Shields and newcomers, Dr Jordan Kolsky and Dr Evelyne Cheng (a medical doctor). They were joined by our permanent Timorese team, Ana DJB Tilman, Nico TF Pires and Ana Paula DST Salgado.
The team eagerly arrived with 15 boxes of supplies on the Friday morning, but spent the majority of the day cooling their heels in Dili as they waited for the outgoing TLDP Lions team which was late coming in from the districts. The two arms of the TLDP (Rotary and Lions) share the Troopie between them, but rarely meet. Once the handover was complete, the team hightailed it to Maubara to pack – the team was spending one week in the neighbouring island of Atauro.
It was at this point the team realised that no Silver Fluoride had made it over from Australia! A disaster! This preventive treatment is a key component in our program and it allows us to save many more teeth than we would without it. So – the Silver Fluoride needed to be begged and borrowed from somewhere back in Oz, then sent internationally to TL, then picked up and sent to another island – all within 2 days. Was this team stymied? Not this team. They put their cool, problem-solving heads together, liaised with 3 dental surgeries in Darwin, arranged for a pickup and drop off to the airport, convinced Airnorth to bring the gear over with their crew, organised our Timorese friends to collect the material and drop it off to a boat which would then take it to Atauro; it was in the team’s hands for their first clinic on Monday. A BIG THANK YOU to BUPA Dental in Casuarina, Palmerston Dental and Smith Street Dental; to Dr Johnny Chen in Darwin, Airnorth, Isabel Noronha Pereira de Lima Maia in Dili, and Barry Hinton in Atauro for performing this logistical miracle!
Back to Saturday. The team had to arrive in Dili super-early in order to make sure that the 2 vehicles (and all our stuff) got loaded onto the ferry. A previous team had learned that having a ticket did not guarantee getting on the boat. Getting on and off the ferry is extremely stressful – there are people, livestock and vehicles everywhere and the ramps are steep and unstable. We have almost lost a car to the ocean during one of these manoeuvres previously. Apart from a stressful start, the team had an uneventful journey over to Atauro and were soon ensconced in the laidback simplicity of Barry’s Place – their home for the week – where they were well and truly spoilt by Barry and his team. The remainder of the weekend was spent relaxing, setting up, and organising the week ahead.
Steph and Ana Tilman shared a birthday on Sunday – Happy Birthday to them both!!!! What a special place to have a birthday!
The first three days were spent working in the Vila Maumeta Health Clinic. Atauro has a total population of 11500 people, and approximately 1900 live in the administrative centre of Vila Maumeta. The population is largely Protestant, in contrast to the Catholic-dominated TL mainland.
Atauro has no electrical supply between 2pm and 6pm, so during the bulk of the day, the team ran on a generator – not unusual for our clinics. There are also no petrol stations on Atauro, so thankfully Barry came to the rescue again when they ran out of fuel!
As well as the general community, the team was able to treat some of the local schoolchildren. Steph and Ana Paula screened all of Grades 1-6, but were less successful with Grades 7-9 as there was overlap with the school feeding program. Nevertheless, even with a public holiday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the independence referendum, the team was extremely busy, with Jordan, Steph, Ash, Nico and Ana Tilman all treating patients, whilst Ana Paula translated, maintained the records, and assisted the clinicians. Evelyne functioned as sole steri-nurse, dental assistant and medical back-up for the team.
Most patients required multiple extractions and fillings. Atauro is an island whose population leads a largely subsistence existence. Many of its communities are remote and there is a high level of disease and few resources. Barry told the team that a number of villagers had died over the preceding year as a result of dental infections. Although the Ministry of Health says that they attend this island regularly; in fact, there has been no dental team here since the TLDP visited 2 years ago.
So when the people of Atauro have an acute dental infection, they have only two choices – to take repeated antibiotics (if they are available) or to travel to Dili where they can make arrangements for extractions. However, many locals are unable to afford even the cost of the ferry to the mainland. It is a sobering thought that this is commonplace across much of TL.
The team spent the last 2 days in the village of Beloi, a rough trip across mountainous terrain. Beloi has the largest population on the island – around 2500 people. Here, many of the locals only speak a local dialect, so it was really lucky that Senhor Lucas, the clinical director in Maumeta stayed to support the team throughout their entire trip. He helped with translating, crowd management, distributing pain killers and fresh coconuts for morning tea. Ana Tilman delivered oral health education to the Beloi kids, in true 21st century style – with a smartphone. Again, the team was busy here and they left after dark on their last day.
After breaking down the clinic in the dark, repacking the cars, catching the ferry back to the mainland, driving back to our Maubara base, then unpacking the cars and repacking the stockroom, then discovering a flat tyre on one car and changing the tyre, I am sure that the team was super-relieved to fall into the welcoming arms of the Sisters at the end of their trip.
All our trips are taxing, but due to the restricted days and remote location, this one was particularly intense. The team in total saw 371 patients. They extracted 657 teeth, placed 294 fillings, and carried out 40 preventive treatments. Good job Team 3!