Chiswick Dentist Returns From Mercy Visit to Sierra Leone

Raffaella shocked by conditions, treated 1500 people in two weeks

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Raffaella in Sierra Leone

White Dental and Cosmetic Rooms

128 Chiswick High Road,
Chiswick. London W4 1PU
Telephone +44 (0) 20 8747 9933

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Chiswick dentist Raffaella Gabassi has returned from her trip to Sierra Leone, where she treated hundreds of children and adults with tooth decay, many of whom had been in severe pain.

The contrasts between the African country and the UK are stark. Here there is one dentist (NHS)for every 2,400 people, while the figure for war-ravaged Sierra Leone is 1 dentist per 1.1 million. There are only five dentists for 5.7 million people. Here is an account of her experiences;

I picked Sierra Leone as it is one of the poorest countries in the world and has, like many other African countries endured much pain and suffering. The last civil war left the country with 70% of the worlds amputees as well as a devastated nation.

The first week I arrived in Sierra Leone, I worked at the Connaught Hospital, a hospital that is lacking in everything and where people fear being admitted due to poor cross infection control resulting from the lack of cleanliness, lack of proper disinfection and basic skills amongst the staff.

I also conducted a radio interview where I advised against home remedies for toothache.People will pour battery acid down a cavity in the belief that the tooth will die and the pain will go but the reality is that necrosis, meaning the death of the whole jaw bone occurs, and a condition called Osteomyelitis often sets in.

If not cured this will kill, children and adults. I have seen cases of people, even educated people, losing their entire face on one side due to some poisonous concoction being applied to the face.

With a team of 4 young adults from an organisation called Teethsavers, I was able to reach villages outside Freetown. We visited several schools, screened and treated all the pupils. Altogether myself and my team treated over 1500 children and adults in 2 weeks.

We also visited the Craig Bellamy Academy where we treated the children at the Academy as well as many children and adult villagers in Tombo, where the academy is located.The academy is run by an exceptional man called Tim Kellow and creates young educated footballers that can go on and win scholarships abroad. The idea is that they then return to SL and bring their expertise back to the country to better the future of their nation.

My team of four and myself went to treat children in two different centres, one in Magburaka and one in Makeni itself where they benefit from a charity called Street Child. They come to the centre in the daytime and go back on the streets at night.

They are orphans, rejects, victims of the civil war. We treated over 150 of these children, but they were only a fraction of the number that attend these centres. Their source of food is often the dumps where you can see them scavaging. The aim of this charity is to try and re-home them as much as possible with relatives, friends or just other families that can support an extra mouth to feed.

We also treated about 80 adults working for African Minerals. We relieved them of pain and referred several of them for major treatment as they were suffering from osteomyelitis. We gave them money to travel to Freetown and sponsored their operation. We supported them, as the African Minerals supports the Street Child charity, and in exchange they offered us accommodation and food for all my team.

The next step was Bo, a town about 3.5 hours from Freetown, where we took over part of the hospital wing and treated about 200 patients, mainly people from the town. The wards were heartbreaking as the conditions there were even worse than at the Connaught hospital in Freetown.

Every night when I went back to the hotel Freetown, I would find a queue of staff pleading to be treated. My hotel room became a improvised Dental Surgery. It was impossible for me to say No.These people have never seen a dentist, do not have money to pay for any treatment and are in severe pain. After the treatment I had to unpack, sterilise the equipment again and pack it up for the morning after. I would end up in bed after 2 am and up before 6 am. 

I want to thank you all so much for your support, without your help ,my mission would have been half a mission. You didn't just save lives but you also gave out 2000 toothbrushes, about 3000 painkillers, over 700 antibiotics and paid for three parents to take their children to have their operation in hospital and be fed until the child is recovered and fit to go home.

March 29, 2012