Tag Archives: remote

The lucky team returns!

Our last team for 2014 returned from Timor Leste a couple of weeks ago, tired but triumphant. The team was exceedingly busy both weeks. In the first week our intrepid team, comprising Dr Hans Raets (Team leader), Dr Yvonne Huijser Von Reenen and Ms Breanna Martin, made the first dental visit to the village of Lebuletta, a 90 min 4WD into the hills above Maubara. We are not sure they will be invited back – by hooking up to the village’s brand new electricity supply, they blew all the fuses!

Hans, Yvonne, Sr FilomenaThat same week, the team also visited the nearby villages of Paurobo and Kaikasa where they were dismayed by the high levels of decay. They were also plagued by equipment failures – herniated air lines, seizing of high speed and slow speed handpieces and malfunctioning valves on the steriliser. Luckily the team had Breanna – a secret expert in battling recalcitrant equipment. She singlehandedly fixed both the air line and the valves.

hans team 2014In the second week, the team was joined by Dr Geoff Knight and his daughter, Anneli Knight, as well as Aida, the Timorese Dental Therapist that the program mentors, who works in Liquiça and Maubara.

The team took off to Bobonaro, a 5 hour rough journey with spectacular scenery. They made a stop in the infamous town of Balibo, where Rotary is building a guesthouse and clinic (apparently the rooms and food are 1st class! We have already volunteered to test them out). A lucky team, they were fortunate to be just in time to see the Tour de Timor cyclists cross the Stage 2 finish line!

In Bobonaro the team was swamped by work, which was dealt with most effectively by using a special treatment protocol which Geoff has helped develop. With Geoff’s tutelage, Aida, in particular, has become extremely proficient in treating decay quickly  with basic equipment. A return visit next year is on the cards to assess the 344 teeth treated in this way.

Catastrophe struck on the ‘lucky’ team’s second last day. The compressor kicked the bucket at the worst time – when they were treating Sr Fatinha, our Timorese coordinator in Bobonaro. A 5 min job became a 2 hour job. Well done Geoff!

hotspringDespite equipment failures and  the bells and the dogs of Bobonaro, the team managed to maintain their remarkable spirit and goodwill throughout the trip. Could it be because of Anneli’s sterilisation efficiency  keeping them amply supplied with cold steel? Or was it super-dental assistant Breanna, with her continual rendition of AFL songs? Perhaps it was the pilgrimage with Sr Mendes  to the hotsprings at nearby Marobo? No matter what the reason, they were a great team!

Another successful trip despite many trials. The team treated a total of 578 patients. They extracted 321 teeth, filled 226 teeth and performed 438 preventive operations. Well done Hans, Yvonne, Breanna, Geoff, Anneli, Aida,  Sr Filomena and Sr Fatinha!

Not enough dentists in Timor Leste

Timor Leste (East Timor) has a population of 1.1 million people. Of the less than 10 dentists in the country, almost all practice privately in Dili, the capital. There are a few free dental clinics – also located in Dili.  In comparison, the vast majority of East Timorese live rurally, reliant on subsistence farming. Hence, for the majority of East Timorese, dental treatment is something that is both financially and logistically unattainable. The Timorese government has tried to address this need by employing Indonesian-trained East Timorese dental ‘nurses’ in some rural hospitals. Unfortunately, these individuals are poorly trained, have minimal experience and are expected to attend their communities’ dental needs with almost no equipment.

The Timor Leste Dental Program is based in Maubara, a town 60km west of Dili, a trip of about 1 1/2 hours. Each year, several teams of volunteer Australian dentists, dental assistants and other dental professionals give two weeks to help our nearest neighbours. The purpose of the program is two-fold: Firstly,  to support the rurally-emplaced Timorese dental nurses with equipment, training and mentoring so that they can better serve their communities. Secondly, to provide much-needed dental care to the people living in rural areas of western Timor L’este.

Timorese communities suffer from high rates of dental decay and much of our treatment involves extraction of teeth that have caused pain for years. Many people have never seen a dentist before. The chewing of betel nut is common and so there are also many extractions due to gum disease. There is also a high incidence of oral cancer and tuberculosis-influenced oral infection. We see many things over there that simply do not exist here in Australia.