Another mission complete!
Recently, Dr Lam traveled to Vietnam to work with Christian Health Aid Team (CHAT), an organisation which she has been closely involved with for quite a few years. CHAT is a non-government organisation which is aimed at providing medical check-ups, dental treatment and oral hygiene education to underprivileged and special needs children from the central and southern remote areas of Vietnam. Groups travel four times a year for one week at a time and consist of a doctor, dentists, assistants and helpers.
This November, the group (led by Dr Lam) traveled to the Kon Tum province which is located in the central highlands region and shares borders with Laos and Cambodia. Within the 5 days of work, the team visited four different boarding schools within several districts of Kon Tum and treated around 230 students ranging from middle school to high school age. Along with treating the children, members of the group also carried out some oral hygiene and dental health education. This included explaining what plaque is, demonstrating proper brushing technique as well as a lesson on what foods and drinks to eat or avoid in order to keep their teeth nice and healthy.
Day 1: Sa Thầy
After spending the weekend packing supplies and loading them onto the bus for a 12 hour drive, the group arrived in Kon tum ready to start the week. The first school they visited was located in the Sa Thầy district. It was government-funded for Vietnamese indigenous children and disadvantaged children whose families cannot afford to pay for their education and so all books, school supplies, uniforms and meals were provided. The only thing that wasn’t available to the children was medical and dental care – enter the CHAT team!
Unfortunately, the group’s first working day didn’t run quite as smooth as they would have hoped. Although having improved majorly over the years, the electricity supply in Vietnam, and especially in remote areas, has never been great and the first day was spent navigating sudden power outages and short circuits as well as settling into the general routine.
Despite all difficulties, they managed to treat 44 patients in total. Treatment was limited to mostly extractions and some fillings as the oral health of this region was quite poor.
Day 2: Ngọc Hồi
On the second day, the group travelled about 60km to the next district called Ngọc Hồi where they would be treating children from another boarding school. With more power available and great sense of teamwork developing within the group, the day ran a lot smoother and setting up and packing away was already becoming so much more efficient! Although the room was smaller, the group adapted straight away and altogether were able to treat 48 patients.
Day 3: Đắk Hà
At this point in the trip it seemed as if the rooms were shrinking in size although this didn’t faze the group one bit! The space provided in Đắk Hà was a small concrete room with mosquitoes buzzing around and minimal area for waiting patients let alone treatment chairs and workers. Despite this, the group managed to treat 54 patients altogether.
Extractions seemed to be the flavour of the day, with many of the children having gross caries in their lower first molars that had progressed past the point of saving. This is quite prevalent in children who don’t practice good oral hygiene as the lower molars in particular, if left uncleaned, can easily become decayed. For this reason, the members were hard at work, not only treating the children, but also reminding them the importance of keeping their mouths healthy.
Day 4 and 5: Kon Tum
The final days of the trip were spent in the main city of Kon Tum at another boarding school. It was an overall consensus that although still poor, the oral health of these children was an improvement compared to the previous schools visited – yet it didn’t mean there was a lack of children to treat.
The group was lucky enough to enjoy a large space to set up within the school’s assembly hall, equipped with abundant power points as well as a beautiful breeze to keep them cool during the day. Of 105 students that were seen over the two days, 29 did not require any treatment – which was very positive for the team. On top of this, 164 students all together were given oral hygiene education.
On the final day, Dr Lam gave a talk on oral hygiene to all the children during their school assembly. The talk covered education on brushing, flossing and how both dental decay and gum disease can form if the children didn’t look after their teeth. The vice principle then addressed the group to show his gratitude, and all the children cheered on – it was so rewarding after a long, hard week of work.
The CHAT organisation is now endeavoring to develop a relationship with the province of Kon Tum, with the hope that they will be able to return more frequently in the future in order to assess the improvement of the dental health and to continue the great work.
For more information on CHAT and all their wonderful work, visit https://www.chatinc.org.au/