During my experience at the Monze Mission Hospital, realized thanks to an agreement reached with the Director of the hospital, I flanked the dentist, Chilala, who runs the Hospital Dental Clinic and befriended Clautildah, an aspiring dental nurse who was in Monze to do her internship.
I was met with great humanity and respect; their fascination with Europeans especially the fair skinned, with fine hair was offset by a self confidence based on their sacrifices to acquire a professional degree in the capital and having studied in English.
In the hospital, talking with young medical students, you can feel the strong desire to improve the conditions of their country through culture and knowledge, and despite the bitterness over not being sure to be able to change the social order, the challenging healthcare problems drive the medical community to work even harder. Opportunistic infections and complications are common in Zambia, but do not seem to deter health workers, where HIV prevalence reaches 12%.
Even in the patient’s medical file, HIV infection is not registered, however, the protocols for disinfection and sterilization (when water and electricity are present) are met or otherwise some simply rely on good sense and the Zambian calm nature. After a few days of acclimatization I fell into this context so far removed from our European concept of dentristy: fillings are a privilege only a few can afford and tooth extractions solve the problem of any symptomatic tooth decay, even when the tooth is intact.
The target population of the clinic are young adults, those who work and have enough savings to pay for the visits; children are rarely the recipients of dental care, although their curiosity and intelligence could be effectively utilized in prevention.
One day at the Manungu Pre-school I gave a lesson on oral hygiene to the children aged between 3 and 6 years. They paid close attention and eventhough I was afraid of boring them, the lesson was a success, especially when the theoretical part was finished (explanations on the parts of the mouth, the importance of brushing your teeth etc.). Afterwards, I was rewarded with many smiles when I gave each of them a toothbrush.
Their curious inquisative looks, turned into spontaneous joy and gratitude when, after lunch, they asked my permission to brush their teeth (this surprised me and made me feel fulfilled)!!