Malawi may rank poorly on the international scale as regards oral and dental hygiene, with government admitting that the country has one of the highest dentist-population ratios in the world.
This means one dentist is supposed to serve about 1.6 million people, against World Health Organization (WHO) standards of 1 dentist to 100,000.
The situation is exacerbated as only 210 qualified dental therapists are available against an establishment of 467 posts, according to officials from the Ministry of Health.
Confirming the development in an interview today, Minister of Health Peter Kampalume described the situation as worrisome, stressing the need for urgent measures to address the problem.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of this year’s Oral Health Week at Capital Hill in Lilongwe.
Said Kampalume, “Actually, only three of the ten dentists work in the public sector, with the rest in private practice. Even most of the dental equipment in public health facilities has outlived its lifespan and need urgent replacement, apart from the human resource challenge.
“As such, as a country, we are at risk of being overwhelmed with a rapidly growing burden of chronic diseases that are closely linked to unhealthy environments and lifestyle that include consumption of diets rich in sugars, widespread use of tobacco and excessive use of alcohol which, unfortunately, is becoming the norm today.”
Meanwhile, three more government-trained dentists, who are currently studying with the University of Muhimbili in Tanzania, are expected to be deployed in the public sector upon completion of their studies next year.
The yawning gap in qualified dentists in the country has now heaped the burden on the country’s few qualified dental therapists, who, Kampalume admitted fall way below the grade.
“We have a great void in our human resource as regards the sector as 210 therapists work against an establishment of 467 posts the ministry has. It’s really pathetic.”
Among others, Kumpalume attributed the high vacancy rate to the fact that College of Medicine (CoM) and other health training institutions in the country only train dental therapists.
WHO reports that 90 per cent of the world’s population is affected by oral diseases in their lifetime, many of which can be prevented with increased governmental, health association and society support and funding for prevention, detection and treatment programs.
Oral health experts also cite that poor diet and poor oral hygiene are risk factors for oral diseases which, they add, are closely linked to cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and respiratory diseases, the four major chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs).