Dentists without Limits help Namibians in rural areas - News - Gondwana Collection

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Dentists without Limits help Namibians in rural areas

Avatar of inke inke - 29. August 2017 - Discover Namibia

Dr Stefan Bader (left) and dental assistant Deborah Fiolka (right) at work in Tsumkwe. They often had to improvise but mostly overlooked the prevailing conditions due to the many patients who urgently needed their attention.

Arrival on 22 July this year, departure on 5 August. First base camp in Grootfontein. Patients treated at Otjituuo, some 60 km of gravel road from Grootfontein, then in Otavi (94 km from Grootfontein) and Kombat (51 km to the west) as well as at Maria Bronn School (10 km to the northwest). After that a 200 km trip to the north for a weekend in Etosha National Park, followed by a visit to former Bushmanland around Tsumkwe, 279 km east of Grootfontein, in the heart of the communal area. The next stops are Gam (another 100 km of gravel road) and Mangetti and then the village of Tsumkwe itself. On the return trip the dentists also look in at Omatako and Kalahari New Hope. On Friday, 4 August, they are in Grootfontein again to hand in all the instruments and equipment before heading back to Windhoek in their rental car.

A total of 446 patients seen for check-ups and treatments, 223 teeth extracted, 85 cavities filled, plus plaque removed from 67 sets of teeth and 12 other dental problems attended to in just two weeks. Dr Stefan Bader (44) from Bonn in Germany and his sister, Dr Heike Berger (46) from Forchheim near Nuremberg, were on a tight schedule. Accompanied by two dental assistants, Jennifer Starklauf (30) and Deborah Fiolka (29), both of them also from Forchheim, they covered more than 3000 km – in part on rather adventurous dirt roads.

The Dentists without Limits Foundation (DWLF) keeps a stock of dental instruments and mobile equipment in Grootfontein which is used by various member groups.

The small towns of Grootfontein, Otavi and Kombat are situated in a commercial farming area. Tsumkwe, however, is located in the communal Nyae Nyae conservancy where lions, leopards, elephants and numerous antelopes still roam the wild without restriction, and the Ju/Hoansi San still go hunting with bow and arrow and gather tubers, fruits and nuts. 

The largest town in the Otjozondjupa Region is Otjiwarongo, some 250 km north of Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek, and 210 km southwest of Grootfontein. The north-eastern part of Otjozondjupa, a region of 105 328 km², extends into the Kalahari Desert. Population density in this rural part of the country is 1.5 inhabitants per square kilometre. 

For Dr Bader and Dr Berger it was not the first visit to Namibia. Stefan Bader has been to Namibia several times and Heike Berger came for her first visit 23 years ago. “After working in the Philippines for a few weeks some time ago I spoke to my brother about a voluntary stint abroad last year, and Namibia was the country we wished to go to. We came across the Dentists without Limits Foundation on the internet and that’s how it started,” Dr Berger explains.

The dentists themselves pay for their air tickets, accommodation, meals and the rental car. In addition, Dr Bader and Dr Berger each had to contribute a fee of 450 Euro to the foundation. DWLF dentists come to Namibia three times a year and work either in the north (Grootfontein) and/or the south (Keetmanshoop). Numerous instruments are therefore stored in both towns but each group brings equipment like gloves, masks, anaesthetics, cleaning material and more along with their personal luggage. This group of four exceeded their baggage allowance by a total of 50 kg.

Summing up their fortnight in Namibia the two dentists, whose combined work experience is 38 years, said: “People were very friendly and forthcoming everywhere, except in Gam. At times they helped us to carry everything into the clinics and later back to our car. Unfortunately many clinics were not prepared for us, even though they knew we were coming. That way valuable time was lost which we could have used for more treatments.” The two dentists found that the condition of the teeth of the San in and around Tsumkwe was surprisingly good, much better than in the other places in Namibia where they had seen patients. They also noted that there is a huge need for dental treatment. “Clearly people can’t see a dentist on a regular basis because there simply aren’t any dentists in those small places and settlements. It is such a pity that we lost up to four hours every day just to get there and back and then for setting everything up and later packing up again,” they said. In some cases the visit of the dentists from Germany is announced via the local radio station.

The previous group worked in the south of the country in early July this year and the next one is expected to arrive in October. After their ‘working holiday’ Dr Berger, Dr Bader and their assistants Starklauf and Fiolka declared in unison: We will be back, Namibia is a wonderful country!        

Dirk Heinrich

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