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Bringing bigger, brighter smiles to Vanuatu

Population density, rural to urban drift and geographic isolation

Vanuatu is a Pacific Island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean, where rapid population growth, rural to urban drift and geographic isolation make the delivery of healthcare services very difficult. Inadequate and irregular budget allocation to healthcare practices means there is a critical shortage of human resources, with as little as 17 dental personnel for the 234,023-strong population.

Sadly, the main cause of illness and death is from preventable or treatable conditions.

Selfless assistance

One of the volunteer groups striving to change this is Smile Vanuatu. With 2017 marking their 7th visit to the island, each year they dedicate their time to improve oral hygiene through health promotion, education, research and activism. The group is made up of a variety of dentists, therapists and assistants from all Australian states.

Providing aid to the locals on Malekula Island, the group works under the direction of a Vanuatu dentist and the manager of the Norsup Hospital. They travel in the back of a Ute to visit school children and oral screening takes place within the school grounds. Any child requiring further care is given the opportunity to attend the Norsup Dental Clinic for emergency treatment.

Doing what they can with what they have

As the locations are remote facilities are limited and infection control practices are inadequate, to say the least. Often clinics will be set up underneath trees and their only means of sterilisation will be a pressure cooker sitting on top of an open fire.

Despite these hurdles, the organisation delivers an excellent level of dentistry. They establish and maintain a working relationship between Vanuatu Health, the population on Malakula Island and volunteering Australian oral health professionals to provide a sustainable public health programme that will improve the lives of future generations.

A successful venture

This trip alone saw them visit three primary schools, three kindergartens and one high school, examining 711 school aged children. They taught them how to effectively clean their teeth and gave them the tools to continue practising good oral health. In total 27 emergency extractions and 23 restoration procedures were performed.

Providing students with work experience

Smile Vanuatu also offers a rural placement with third-year Bachelor of Oral Health students from Central Queensland University. They continue to be invited back to Vanuatu to assist with the public health programme and continue to bring a brighter future to patients they visit.

If you would be interested in this programme, please contact: smilevanuatu@live.com

To find out more about the charities and organisations we work with, view our Charities page.