When Compassion Won: How Humanity Rallied to Help Syrian Refugees Receive Dental Care
The Syrian Civil War may have started in March 15, 2011, but the fighting is far from over. As of December 2016, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates that there have been over 437,000 deaths. However, even more staggering is the number of displaced Syrians. The MercyCorps quoted the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that at least 4.8 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. Then there are 6.6 million who are internally displaced within Syria. This means over 11 million Syrians are currently displaced from their homes.
Not all of these refugees are poor. Many of them are professionals – such as doctors, engineers, lawyers – who have fled their homes with their families to escape from the fighting. Every day we hear stories of how refugees are being turned away from neighboring nations, and we hear of how poorly they are being treated in refugee settlements. Yet some who have relocated at the start of the fighting had better luck at restarting their lives.
Such is the case of Hosam, a Syrian who fled to Somalia at the onset of the fighting. According to a report by BBC News entitled “Aleppo dentist brings ‘Hollywood smiles’ to Somalis after fleeing Syria,” Hosam and several other professional Syrians have reopened their practices in areas where their services are needed. Indeed, some Somalis say that in some way, the conflicts have been good. Refugees with the skills that the locals lack migrate into the country, thereby providing the locals with healthcare and their other needs. In some instances, even roads are literally paved by Syrian refugees.
Yet while some fortunate refugees are able to give back to their foster communities, not all in refugee camps are not as lucky. While they may be rich in the past, they are oftentimes stripped off their wealth and are already considered fortunate that they have escaped their war-embroiled country and have settled somewhere peacefully. And while most governments are doing their best to provide for these refugees, not all their needs are being met.
In an article entitled “Syrian refugees are in bad need of dental treatment,” CBC News reports that severe tooth decay and gum infections are probably “the top medical issue” at a refugee facility. It has gotten to the point that organizations are already knocking on the doors of dentists, asking them to volunteer their services. Without dental care, many refugees suffer from excruciating gum infections, a physical pain so intense that refugees cannot get respite from, as they cannot even eat or rest. There were emergency dental cases with abscessed teeth, and even teeth that have rotted down to the gums.
When the World Came to Help
CBC News’ report is not an isolated case. In fact, many refugee camps and settlements need assistance when it comes to dental health. As one can imagine, there must’ve been massive problems with dental hygiene once the refugees have been welcomed into their new dwellings. Who can blame them? Bothering with their bi-annual prophylaxis appointments must have been in their list of non-priorities if they are in a hurry to flee their war-torn homes.
Thankfully however, the world rallied to help them. Dentists all over the world volunteered their time and services. Many organizations funded treatments, equipment, facilities, and medicine to help them.
One of these endeavors is Project: Refugee Smiles. The project was able to raise $533,144 for Syrian refugee students in Turkey. In cooperation with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), the group has set up polyclinics near refugee camps. Then, in the summer of 2015, dentists and faculty from UNC School of Dentistry went to Rihaniya, Turkey, to provide dental services. After treating ailments, the group increased dental health literacy, raised funds to support local dentists, and purchased equipment and dental supplies for these local dentists. They were able to help so many people that their Syrian Dental Relief campaign was able to surpass its goal. They even had money leftover- – which was then further donated.
Even the American Dental Association (ADA) advocated helping out. In 2014, it published an article where it talked about the efforts of Dr. Othman Shibly to help bridge the dental gap in refugee camps. Dr. Shibly is the associate director of the University at Buffalo school of Dental Medicine’s Center for Dental Studies. He is the child of a Lebanese mother and a Syrian father.
After being exposed to the efforts of the Syrian American Medical Society, Dr. Shibly realized that there is not enough dental care in refugee camps. He said, “At first, volunteers were concentrating on war injuries—thoracic and head and neck problems—as well as emergency dental care that was mostly extractions.”
He saw that volunteer dentists at the Syrian border of Turkey and Jordan treats at least 50 patients per day and over 1,290 patients per month. Many refugees also travel hundreds of miles just to receive dental care. Many of these refugees also suffer from psychological stress, and their situations were not improved by overcrowded dental clinics and increased smoking, which can be attributed again to the stress.
To remedy the need, he resolved to establish fully equipped clinics that could provide a full range of dental services. He said, “What we found is that new clinics and more staff are needed to treat these patients. And preventive care services—including oral hygiene instruction, toothbrushes, fluoride treatment and tobacco counseling—need to be expanded. Dentists at these clinics also need training to address the psychological stress of their patients.”
Needless to say, his efforts all paid off. In his own way, he started a movement that would last through the ages.
While many would argue that dental care is not necessary during times of war, volunteer dentists would beg to differ. While they may have addressed a toothache or have extracted a rotten tooth, these modern day heroes also provided the refugees with a brief respite. While they may still be far from their homes and while the war continues on, at least, in a small moment of victory, they have at least conquered the pain in their mouth. At least they would be more comfortable. At least they would have more things to be thankful and hopeful for.
And this hope is something that many could build upon. It can go a long way to boost a disillusioned man – so much so that this can give refugees more reasons to keep on fighting and not to give up.
Such is the beauty to be found in volunteering and helping out.