Tender mercies shown by dental team

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Hadleigh Reid working on the Mercy Ship in Benin, treating up to 18 patients a day.
Hadleigh Reid working on the Mercy Ship in Benin, treating up to 18 patients a day.

It is becoming a habit for Hadleigh Reid to spend his down-time overseas - providing free dental treatment for some of the world's poorest people.

The Whanganui dentist is serving his second tour of duty in Africa with Mercy Ships.

This month-long humanitarian adventure has taken Reid to post-Ebola Benin, where he is treating up to 18 patients living in poverty each day.

On appointment days, the dental team arrives to the on-shore clinic with hundreds in pain lined up and waiting for help that is otherwise simply inaccessible.

Dr Reid finds the long hours and demanding work challenging but extremely rewarding.
"I think the biggest factor we encounter is the lack of dental treatment available. Small problems get bigger and bigger when left untreated. We see some very extreme cases, so much more advanced than anything I would see at home.

"I had a teenager in today who had infection draining from a tooth out of his neck and it had been like that for two years.

"We had a couple of patients in yesterday with really advanced oral cancer involving their tongue, neck and throat.

Last week there was a patient who had dead and infected bone in his lower jaw that was so bad that his jaw joint had rotted away."

Dr Reid discovered some surprises upon his return to post-Ebola Africa.

"It was interesting talking someone on the ship the other day who said the overall mortality rate dropped significantly in West Africa during Ebola - because people were so much more careful about hygiene and transmitting infectious diseases!

"I think it is a great opportunity to be able to assist developing nations with their health care and training and supporting their health workers. It gives you a different perspective on life and appreciation for all we take for granted."
He has been in the country for a month, returning to New Zealand on Tuesday October 11.

Each year the Mercy Ships crew provide more than 20,000 dental services, in addition to thousands of medical and surgical services, at no charge. They work alongside local government providers to improve local health care delivery systems in nations at the lowest end of the UN Human Development Index.
* There are almost 100 times as many dentists available to treat New Zealanders than to treat people in Benin, West Africa (1 dentist to 200,000 people in Benin, 98: 200,000 in New Zealand). For more information; mercyships.org.nz

At a glance
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, with more than 2.56 million people directly benefiting. The Africa Mercy is crewed by 400 volunteers from up to 40 nations, an average of 1000 each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. With offices in 16 nations including New Zealand, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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