“Seeing the DentaidBox in the Kompiam Dental Clinic on my return was such a joy, and an encouragement as I emtered the second season of working in Papua New Guinea (PNG).”
These are the words of Indian dentist, Dr. Camy Thomas (B.D.S) who works at Kompiam District Hospital under the Enga Baptist Health Services. Below, Dr. Thomas shares what the difference it makes for her and the patients to have received the DentaidBox.
Story by Dr. Camy Thomas. Photos by Diana Zwijnenburg, Corne Noordhoek, Mandy Glass and Fraser Norbury.
My dental assistant and I were excited to unpack the dental materials and equipment that seemed so thoughtfully and strategically arranged in the wheely bin.
The creativity of onsite makeshift dental chairs
We were most eager to work the chair into position for we had previously come up with different ideas to set up a dental chair in certain places where sometimes we didn’t even have plastic chairs to use as patient chairs when we would go for the bush medical and dental camps.
We’d used plastic chairs secured with a cushion made of an unpacked cotton roll covered in a plastic sheet and secured to the chair with strings as headrests for patients.
In another place where there were no plastic chairs in that village and the health aid-post was a redundant dilapidated shelter which was completely unusable as the health worker had died years ago and the replacement workman had never arrived, we were left with a bamboo and palm leaf structure in the marketplace cushioned by a plastic bag filled with second hand clothes that was brought by one of the nurses to give away at the village.
The Yambaitok Challenge
But the place that presented itself with a unique challenge was a village called Yambaitok, which is about a 20-minute flight from our base hospital at Kompiam.
We did a clinic there in April of 2019. This village had no plastic chair of any kind in any house to sit upon nor a suitable shaded roof to arrange the makeshift clinic at. There was a hand-carved wooden stool that the villagers could offer, and since it was a low stool, we propped it over some flat wooden logs lying around and had the bark of a tree as a backrest and secured a cushion made of gauze sheets wrapped in a plastic sheet.
The irony was taking this new Dentaid chair to this very place in Yambaitok for the first time this year in February 2022!
I couldn’t stop praising God as we set up the chair under the market welcome gate made of palm leaf and grass roof. I also chuckled at the memory of the first time I was here in 2019 and had to really stretch my imagination to set up the chair.
Health Patrol in Enga
The Enga Province in PNG’s western highlands is home to some of the country’s most recently discovered people groups. Its terrain is mountainous and rugged, and much of the province is yet to be reached by serviceable road networks. Its 350,000 people, comprising the largest single language group in the country, live mostly in rural locations, scattered in small hamlets often carved out of the thick forest on isolated hilltops.
The Kompiam/Ambum District with a population of about 74,000 is classified as one of PNG’s 13 Extremely Disadvantaged Districts.
Our medical and dental team flies out on fortnightly patrols to our nine aid posts in the district in MAF planes. The alternate option is to walk for hours and/or days to reach these health aid posts.
We stay there for two days at these remote aid posts attending to the patients there, doing health talks, immunisations, mother and child clinics, etc.
After the clinic, dental education and brushing activity for that day, the instruments used were sterilized in the Pressure cooker on a wooden flame in the ‘Cook house’ over a fireplace made of logs in the pastor’s house at night to be ready for day two of the camp.
We were very grateful for the timer that helped us keep time and the oven gloves which seemed like a luxury to have in a place like that.
The DentaidBox is thoughtfully and comprehensibly put together and is a blessing to the patient and dental team.
On behalf of our team here at Kompiam District Hospital, I’d like to thank the Dentaid UK team and MAF for partnering with us and making it possible to bring health care to some of the most isolated populations in our world.
Where it all began
Tracy, along with her husband Fraser and their two children joined MAF PNG in 2011. While Tracy works as a Training
Officer and Fraser is MAF PNG’s Head of Finance.
“Back in February 2021, we were packing our belongings to ship them to PNG,” says Tracy, “when Jacqueline from Dentaid approached us about whether we could transport a DentaidBox to any army dentist from East Sepik. Jacqueline had previously received an application for a DentaidBox from this dentist and had doubted that Dentaid could send one because the shipping costs were prohibitive. However, when she heard we were moving to PNG she felt she should go ahead and ask whether we could arrange for it to be shipped with our items.
When we called MAF's International Recruitment Officer Karin Titternes in Cairns to ask about this, I felt prompted to ask her whether there were any other agencies she knew if which could benefit from a DentaidBox. Karin enquired in the MAF PNG programme and discovered the need at Kompiam but when she spoke to us, she initially said she felt we should just try to ship the one box to the army which was already funded by Dentaid. Shortly after this conversation, she got in touch with us again to say she felt she should say YES to two boxes coming with our shipment.
This happened ten days before our shipment was due to be sealed and sent from England and gave Dentaid a very short timeframe to raise the two and a half thousand pounds needed to cover the cost of the box and its shipping.
Within a week, all the money had come in!”