Redeeming Uganda of dentists deficiency

Students during a lecture at the International Paramedical Institute in Maya. The institute that started with 22 students now has a population of 320.
PHOTO BY Tom Malaba

What you need to know:

Uganda is suffering from rising cases of dental problems but with very few dentists to provide a solution, private trainers are hoping they can bridge this gap and heal the country of this deficiency

Early this year the Uganda Dental Association (UDA) held festivities to mark the Annual World Oral Health Day to promote worldwide awareness of issues around oral health. However, away from the usual drumming and speeches to mark such days is a population overwhelmed by dental problems.
According to the Ministry of Health, as of 2014, Uganda had a population of 200 dentists, 300 dental officers and 300 public health dental officers to a population of 42m people. Statistics show the ratio of dentists to the population is 1:175,000 people.
Faced with such a huge burden, Dr Grace Seruyange, a dental specialist, started International Paramedical Institute – Maya to train dental officers. “I felt I needed to do something about the dental situation in Uganda to add on the 12 dental surgeons trained from Mulago Dental School every year,” Dr Seruyange says of the vision he birthed in 2016. Other than attend to patients, Dr Seruyange currently is into training to increase the hands attending to people with dental problems.
According to the Ministry of Health, every health centre IV is supposed to have a dental officer. “You cannot imagine the entire population in Wakiso District being served by one dental officer, that means people with dental problems have to trek from Kyengera, Nsangi to go to a health centre IV at the district for treatment,” says Dr Seruyange.
After a stint in public practice, Dr Seruyange travelled to the US to pursue a degree in Dental Lab Technology and wrote a project proposal to establish a modern Paramedical Training Institute to help produce competent medical personnel to compete on the global market.

The take home
The school offers both local and international curriculum and occasionally receives specialists from Germany, China, US and UK who give students the much needed skills alongside their Ugandan counterparts. “When we go out there we are pushed back to school. But with the kind of training here, a student will only be required to sit an examination and start work without going back to school to study what they have already studied.”
After three years at the Institute, dental officers are trained to carry out procedures as per the national licensing body, root canal, teeth extraction, fillings, scaling and polishing and minor surgeries. The school started off with 22 students but the population has grown to 320 students. The equipment used in training was donated by well-wishers. Computer studies are compulsory to prepare students for the digital world.

After school
To ensure his dream comes true, Dr Seruyange is already fundraising for dental equipment for each of his 22 students before sending them into the market. “On graduation day we want to ensure that each of the students gets dental equipment on loan to open their own private health units in the areas they come from,” he says.
But to qualify for the equipment on loan, students will have to write a project proposal showing their willingness to go and work in communities they come from to avoid concentrating in Kampala which is well served.
The institute is also piloting a new course to train dental technicians. Uganda has only three dental technicians who were trained way back in the 1970s. Dental technicians are people who manufacture dentures, bridges and teeth crowns.
Dr Seruyange says when his dream of producing 1,000 dental officers annually is attained, he will then be on the way to ensuring Ugandans have healthy teeth so that they can wear a beautiful smile as implied by the Uganda Dentists Association motto.

The future
The school that has both day and boarding students is currently building a skilled medical laboratory to train medical clinical officers. It is also building a pharmacy laboratory to train pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants. The school also has a medical laboratory to train laboratory technicians and laboratory assistants.