Sunday, August 10, 2014

Working on Oral Health with children in La Paz

Bolivian life is thoroughly fascinating, enthralling and ultimately similar to many other cultures. The city of La Paz encompasses all walks of life; it spans from those who enjoy a comfortable living, those who work incredibly hard to provide their family with necessities and those who are really struggling to survive.

International Service works with five projects in Bolivia. ChildFund, the project I am working with, has centres spread across the city of La Paz in a number of different locations. One centre, Avance Communtario, works with both children and mothers to help the community of Chasquipampa. A large aim of the project, to be completed by the end of the three months I am here, is to complete the oral health module started by the previous cohort of UK volunteers. ChildFund intends to teach oral health to the children, who are between the ages of 5 and 15, through a number of exercises, activities and events. Closely working with certain children allows for us to acquire an interesting insight into their life, and allows us to alter our sessions to truly affect the students in the most productive way. The module encompasses certain areas of teaching such as dental services, nutrition, habits and includes activities which have been tried and tested in previous centres. Through working with the kids certain activities were altered, allowing the most reliable and functional module to be created. In the future this module will be used in all ChildFund centres in Bolivia.

Many of the children who attend the centres live in homes where minimal health and sanitation systems are available. Bathrooms which are located outside are common; some homes consist of one room encompassing the kitchen, toilet and matrasses, and cases exist (less common but still present) where bathrooms are non-existent. An activity done with the children where they had to draw their house and their furniture allowed us to understand their living situation and inspired the idea to make a toothbrush holder out of papier mache. 

A drawing from one of the children at the ChildFund centre in Chasquipampa, La Paz, showing an outdoor bathroom.

The activity will take place in the following three weeks, and the end project should result in a healthy way to carry and encourage dental materials and their use. Allowing the children to be creative while emphasizing a beneficial activity is a key aim of ChildFund and therefore the project will encompass the ideas held by our development group.

Children arriving to the centre sucking a lollypop, eating crisps or chomping on chocolate is a frequent occurrence, giving rise to thought regarding the health of their teeth. An interesting article studying the self-perceived oral health status of the elderly in Pampahasi, a peri-urban area of La Paz, showed a significant correlation between education and lack of satisfaction with economic status to poor general health (Uqarte, 2007). The study showed that 60% of subjects described their oral health as poor; however the detail of this scale is unknown.

This characterisation of oral health is accurate; many of the children have bacterial plaques and rotting teeth due to their lack of oral health practice. While working with the children, we asked a class of 25 students if they owned a toothbrush. 13 children, between the ages of 5 and 12, did not have a toothbrush. On average, the percentage of students who have access to dental hygiene practices is 50%. This dramatic value represents the need to educate both parents and children on the importance of oral health.

An article claiming that dental health across the Bolivian population is the worst in South America, suggests that the solution is to integrate fluoride treatment and regular cleaning into everyday Bolivian life (SmilesForever, 2009). However, the majority of the population undervalues the necessity to practice good oral health and hence problems arise. Targeting oral health habits is therefore the primary aim of our work in ChildFund Centres, and empowering children to practice healthy dental care will eventually carry through the population, slowly but surely solving the issue of oral health.

Working as a team enables significant progress to be made in 3 months (the short time we stay here for) and the end product of our time will be the completed Oral Health Module. Getting to know the children we work with, developing relationships between colleagues and helping the local communities have been highlights to a productive first month in La Paz.

Written by Jessica Barkan.

Edited by Kelly-Marie Roberts.
Translated into Spanish by Maria Renee Trigo. 


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