Haiti is a country about the size of Massachusetts with a population around 11 million people. More than half of the country lives in rural villages with limited access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and food. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50% of the Haitian population survives on less than $1 per day and more than 45% are considered undernourished. There is less than one dentist and only eight hospital beds per 10,000 people, so conditions like dental infections can rapidly become life-threatening.
For seven days in April, a group of ten dental students and four faculty from Temple Dental School provide free dental care in remote villages outside the town of Jeremie. The goal for each trip to Haiti is to provide the highest quality of care to as many Haitian people as the conditions will allow. Students and faculty begin their day with a stomach-churning drive into the mountains where they set up make-shift clinics. Instruments are autoclaved in the US and then cold sterilized between uses in Haiti. There is no electricity, running water, or suction. Students typically work outside under the shade of a tree, although at some villages there may be a small building or thatch-roofed hut that can be utilized in inclement weather.
Students perform all procedures under the guidance and supervision of the faculty members. Extractions are the principle treatment modality due to rampant caries and a lack of electrical power, but it is not uncommon for students to suture lacerations or drain infections. Since handpieces are not available, the students learn how to section teeth with a chisel and mallet. Oral surgery skills improve quickly as students watch faculty members remove broken root tips. By the second day most students are performing these difficult extractions with little help. Haitian translators work with the group to review medical histories and give post-operative instructions. Students quickly learn the important words and before long most of the group can speak enough Creole to treat patients without a translator by their side.
A few weeks prior to the group’s arrival, the Haitian Health Foundation notifies the local community about the upcoming clinic. Amazingly, the news travels for miles by word-of-mouth alone as less than 10% of the entire country has access to telephones. There is usually a line of about 100 people waiting on the first morning. By the time some people arrive at the location, they will have walked for days, sleeping along the side of the road each night. Ages range from newborn to the most elderly of the population. Although every effort is made to see as many patients as possible, inevitably patients have to be turned away due to lack of resources or dental and medical conditions that require more advanced care than can be safely provided in the field. Time also becomes a factor, as there are usually more patients than can be seen during each work session. The group stays as late as possible but travel in the dark can be dangerous. Students who have been on the trip universally agree that telling patients in need of care that they cannot be treated is a heart-wrenching experience, but one that ultimately inspires them to return to Haiti again.
*** gofundme disclaimer***
All donations collected here will be withdrawn by our faculty advisor, Dr. Josh Bresler. Dr. Bresler is an Assistant Professor of Pediatric Dentistry at Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry and has served as the Haiti Club group leader for the past 15 years. Funds will be used to secure our safe travel, purchase needed medications and supplies for our work, and donations made as seen fit to help our patients in desperate need.