Clean walls and a tiled floor, a modern dental chair and three equipped consultation rooms manned by three specialized dental therapists, the dental clinic at Byumba health centre though still work in progress is a spectacle to observe.
The therapists have undergone intensive training and go about their daily duties skilfully and gracefully.
This once dilapidated, unsanitary and underserved clinic of the Byumba district hospital in present day Gicumbi district is now one of the busiest and well equipped units thanks to a project supported by the Heineken Africa Foundation (HAF) through its local subsidiary BRALIRWA implementing since 2015.
The project is implemented by Fondation Aide Dentaire Afrique (fADA) through its Rwandan subsidiary Aide Dentaire Afrique (ADA).
“About two years ago, the dental clinic’s services were either to conduct a tooth extraction or transfer a patient to the University Teaching Hospital in Kigali (CHUK). Since then however, things have changed significantly; the clinic has been equipment with modern dental tools, therapists given additional training, and the whole clinic given a facelift with additional furnishings to improve its hygiene standards,” Seruhire Theoneste the Director of Human resource and administration at the hospital explains.
As a result, more patients are attended to each day and services on offer have increased.
While only extractions were possible in the past, Uhawenimana Theressa, a dental therapist and the head of the dental clinic service at the hospital, explains that with the improved skills in conducting quality diagnostics and the availability of modern equipment, they now conduct tooth scaling, specialised extractions, root planning and permanent filling for damaged teeth. All these are reinforced by the extra safety offered by the hygienic environment.
“Currently, the dental clinic has the capacity of treating 60 patients per day from 11 in 2015,” she says.
Since the upgrading in 2015, the dental clinic at Byumba District Hospital has served more than 9,620 patients.
Through the project to upgrade oral health for rural Rwandans in Gicumbi district, there has been strong emphasis on the transfer of skills from local and foreign dental health specialists to not only the district hospital staff but also to therapists in health centres for select sectors of the district with the objective of getting services closer to the people and in so doing make them affordable.
Dental healthcare skills have been transferred to local staff from the able and skilled doctors of from the ADA clinic in Kigali.
One instrumental individual has been Dr. Tom van der Colk, a dental surgeon-acupuncturist and trainer for the ADA clinic in Rwanda. Through his skilled hands and under his guidance, dental therapists in Gicumbi have acquired new oral health skills in the use of modern equipment to serve the community as best possible.
After two years of training therapists in Gicumbi, Dr. Tom and his Rwandan counterpart Dr. Longin Rudasingwa are enthusiastic that the trainees have gained ample skills in conducting quality diagnostics and offering quality treatment to the patients.
“Besides enabling the clinic to offer high quality dental services to the people, the project also sought to empower Gicumbi District hospital to become a centre of excellence and dental health training for therapists. I have good reason to believe that the hospital is on track to achieving this objective,” Dr. Tom shared.
Other than Tom and Longin, staff from the ADA Clinic in Kigali offer regular follow-up and support to their colleagues in Gicumbi through weekly visits.
During a visit at the hospital, Dr. Alphonse Karangwa an experienced therapist from the ADA clinic in Kigali was on the rotational shift to support the district dental therapists.
“Looking at the quality of services being offered today and given that they benefited from an intensive training at the clinic in Kigali where there are more experienced personnel and modern equipment, the therapists at the dental clinic in Byumba district hospital are well positioned to train others in the near future,” he said.
Besides the district hospital’s dental clinic, the project to upgrade dental health in Gicumbi also supported the establishment of dental clinics in three health centres of Manyagiro, Rutare and Mukono.
In these health centres, a dental therapist has been recruited and basic equipment installed in addition to uplifting the hygiene conditions of the clinics.
As a result, more locals have been able to access lifesaving dental care services and have learnt how to care for their teeth though regular mobilisation efforts made by the dental therapists.
In Manyagiro health centre located about 25km from Gicumbi town, a recently recruited dental therapist Pascal Izere is said to have turned a new leaf of better health for residents of this and neighbouring sectors.
Since July 2016, Izere’s register shows he had attended to 1,950 patients until January 2017.
Among beneficiaries of this service is Hakizimana Laurent’s wife and three children.
“My wife used to have tooth problems all the time and would spend several sleepless nights when the toothaches were at climax. However, whenever we went to the health centre, they would say she needed to go to Gicumbi where her complicated teeth would be extracted. That was a big challenge as it required fare to get to Gicumbi and at least a whole day in the best case scenario if she could go and be attended to that day or more than a day if she was not to see the therapists that same day.”
Hakizimana explains that she was unfortunate because the day she went there, the therapists said she was to come back another day and she resolved to return home and live with her pain.
“But ever since we got this Godsend doctor, she was treated and three of our seven children have also benefited since they too were suffering albeit not as their mother. We are glad that we do not have to struggle with making the long walks to Gicumbi for dental healthcare anymore.”
Similar to Manyagiro, the dental clinic in Rutare health centre has seen 2,951 patients benefit from dental care services since its establishment in July 2016.
Combining beneficiaries from Manyagiro and Rutare health centres with those from the dental clinic at Byumba district hospital, close to 14,521 people have benefited from improved dental healthcare services in hardly two years.
Despite the impact that the project has had particularly building the capacity of the clinic at the district hospital both through skills transfer and provision of modern equipment, Seruhire confides that there is need to invest in extending dental clinics to at least another four health centres so that eight of the 24 sectors of the district have quality services and can thus serve a bigger population.
“With only the district dental clinic and the three additional health centres, the demand still outweighs our capacity to deliver. Since people now know more about dental health and are able to get quality services, they are seeking them more. This leaves the available clinics overwhelmed by visits from both within Gicumbi and from neighbouring districts hence the need to increase the number of health centres that can offer the services and as such ensure that the referral system for dental healthcare in the district operates efficiently.”
With an objective of upgrading dental health in Gicumbi, the Heineken Africa Foundation funded project has ended up improving access to affordable and quality oral healthcare not only for the district of Gicumbi but also for neighbouring districts of Rwamagana, Rulindo, Gasabo and Gatsibo.
Read this article and more in the latest issue of Hope Magazine