What a welcome! What an exciting scene met our eyes when we arrived at the 10th anniversary of the Lake Victoria Disability Centre(LVDC) in Musoma, Tanzania on 21st February 2012. Upwards of 200 people were gathered on the new four acre site to participate in the unveiling of the foundation stone of the new centre. We were wonderfully welcomed in true African style by the most impressive singing and dancing. Both the Mayor of Musoma and the Regional Development Officer spoke highly of the LVDC, praising the work and care that was being offered to the disadvantaged in a country that still despises disability. The Asian Odontological Group (AOG) has contributed considerable funds to the dental unit in Musoma and Manny Vasant and Pommi Datta both spoke representing the AOG contingent of eleven from the UK who were privileged to be part of this momentous occasion.
Dennis Maina, a gentle African man, first had the vision for helping those less fortunate than himself in Musoma. He quietly started a charity on the lake-side 10 years ago teaching deaf and dumb children to communicate. It is thought that approximately 10% of the population is disabled in one form or another: polio and measles still cause paralysis and deafness. He soon realised that there were significant numbers of young men who were unable to walk because of polio as infants. Being an engineer by background, he set up a workshop in the centre of town to teach young men welding skills to make their own hand pedalled tricycles and these have dramatically changed the lives of these young men. Gradually other workshops have been added; a screen printing business, a sewing machine class and a thriving shop are all now present in the town centre. This significant presence in the centre of town is helping to break down the negativism towards disability that exists within the community.
The Lake Victoria Disability Centre is also working closely with Graham McClure from the C of E diocese. Graham, a builder from Blackheath, London, spends six weeks at a time in Musoma heading up a building project of individualised water tanks to collect and store rain water. This system is 'enabled' by members of the community earning 'points' when Graham and his team move in and construct his or her own concrete tank. Graham's building skills have been invaluable in assisting the LVDC in their new building project at the new site on the outskirts of the town.
So………where does the dentistry come in? In 2008 a small group of dentists visited Musoma and carried out some basic dentistry within the local hospital. Part of that trip was to assess the feasibility of improving the dental facility within the hospital and part was to assess the dental and oral disease need. It became apparent that the enhancement of the dental unit within the hospital was not appropriate since it could not be adequately maintained and managed as the personnel were forever changing and there was lack of 'ownership'. By working closely with the Lake Victoria Disability Centre, however, the means to placing a dental unit that could be maintained and looked after has become a much more feasible proposition. It was exciting therefore to see the foundation stone being unveiled on the outside of the 'AOG Building' that is to house this new dental surgery.
Currently the dental need is low. Musoma is, however, rapidly changing. It was apparent at this visit how much more mobile the population had become: many more cars, bicycles and scooters were in evidence. The power supplies are less erratic and Fanta and Coke seem to be universal! As the standard of living 'improves', there will obviously be an increasing dental need. In addition, the population statistics are frightening! According to a local worker there is a population explosion with currently 25% under the age of 5yrs and 40% under the age of 15yrs! (This is partly as a result of the previous generation being badly decimated by AIDS and the children of this generation surviving better).
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