When one hears of Kenya the first thing that comes to mind is wildlife and safaris.
However, there is so much more to this east African country.
Kenya is still considered a developing country and even in 2018, approximately 46% of Kenyans fall below the poverty line. To be considered below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, these are those people earning less than $2 a day.
There are various factors which contribute to poverty in Kenya which also impacts on the provision of medical and dental care.
Research conducted by Nairobi University in 2015 ascertained that the ratio of dentist to patient of 1:42000 is below what is recommended by WHO (World Health Organization). Most oral care facilities are based in urban areas and are difficult to access by the average Kenyan, due to logistics and financial constraints.
The incidence of dental caries in the population is high as well as the prevalence of bleeding gums and inflammation. There is also a very high incidence of dental fluorosis (spots on the enamel) in the population due to high levels of fluoride in the groundwater in Kenya.
After some research, it was decided that the Emirates Dental Hygienists Club (EDHC) in collaboration with Faircare (an Initiative by Goumbook), Rags to Riches, along with the organization and insight of Mr Simintei Sengeny, that we would make our social responsibility project for 2018; an outreach project to Kenya.
On 3rd August 2018, 12 dental professionals from the UK, Netherlands, UAE, KSA, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Australia and South Africa departed from Dubai International Airport bound for Nairobi. Between us checking in more than 500kg of dental equipment and supplies.
And so our life-changing journey to Kenya began.
On arrival at Nairobi International Airport, we were met by our host Mr Simintei and transported in three minibuses to our destination. Two of the minibuses just reserved for our equipment and supplies.
The journey took us about nine hours, with stops to view the Great Rift Valley and to buy some supplies not permitted to be transported by air travel.
We even encountered a slight glitch when our minibus got stuck in the mud and we had to be pushed out of the mud. We finally arrived at our humble hotel to a great welcome from the community and hotel staff.
After breakfast and a short walk on a dirt road from our hotel, we arrived at the community medical clinic where we were to set up our makeshift dental rooms.
Upon our arrival, we were ushered into a waiting area, out of consideration for a local woman who was about to give birth. When we were able, we set up a dental room for basic dental procedures and a hygiene room for dental cleaning and education, as well as a separate room to use as a sterilization area. We had to improvise due to the lack of dental chairs by using office chairs and couches as well as using electric pressure cookers, bleach and medical-grade sterilizing solution to sterilize instruments due to the unavailability of autoclaves. The day was very busy with patients eager to have their teeth checked and were very happy to receive treatment.
It was Sunday and therefore the medical clinic was closed. Our gracious host organized a drive through the Masai conservancy for us to observe this region. The Masai people own and are responsible for the conservancy and the maintenance thereof. We also had a visit to a tribal village where we delivered toothbrushes and toothpaste for the inhabitants.
Arrangements were made for local school children to come to the medical clinic to receive dental screening, oral hygiene education and girls to receive menstruation education and menstrual packs.
We were then invited to the school for a performance in our honour to thank us for our work in the community. The performance was a cultural dance and song called “beautiful woman”.
Another busy and satisfying day at the clinic. At the time of our arrival in the morning at the clinic, 3 women were in labour. To demonstrate the lack of services in the region. One of the women had complications during childbirth and needed to be transported to the nearest town 2.5 hours away. The only ambulance available in the region was being used for another emergency call. Luckily the family could afford to hire a private vehicle to take the patient to another medical facility equipped to help her.
This was our fun day! We went on safari in hopes of observing the annual migration of the wildebeest cross the Mara River. Any funds accumulated by independent safari guides goes directly to the Masai community. Even when buying simple souvenirs it may seem outrageous to pay $10 for a simple beaded bracelet, but with the community uncertain of how many tourists they will encounter they try to make as money as possible.
Another day spent in the bush, getting a glimpse of the African savannah and its majestic creatures. The respect the Masai people have for their land is admirable. The land, their home and its inhabitants are treated like their family members. We also completed some of our dental obligations by dropping off toothbrushes and toothpaste at villages in the vicinity.
After an early breakfast, we make the long trip back to Nairobi.
Our trip to Aitong was a great success with close to 300 patients being seen. The trip to Kenya brought about the realization of how fortunate we are, especially those of us living in the UAE. My colleagues and I now see the world through “grateful eyes”. We have clean water, ample amounts of food, electricity, proper sanitation and even transportation. It is all a privilege we should appreciate.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Kenyan people we encountered. Even though adverse poverty we clearly witnessed their kindness, friendliness and helpful nature. People who were grateful for the treatment and care we gave them.
I cried tears of shame for not being more grateful for my fortunate life and I cried tears of joy when I could see the impact our trip made on the lives of this humble community in such a short time.