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An important Medical mission to Guna Yala took place recently. Howard V. Walker tells the story.
How many dentists receive freshly caught fish in ‘payment’ for their services?
Only in Guna Yala? In any event, this was the thank-you gift, in banana leaf wrapping, recently given by a grateful Guna patient to her visiting oral surgeon, one of the most distinguished in the USA. She had been in pain for months.
There is no dentist on this Guna island of 2000 persons, one of many inhabited coral reefs comprising Guna Yala (Guna territory) offshore in the Caribbean ocean. Little wonder, then, that each Easter time (this is the seventh consecutive year) the volunteer team is so eagerly awaited. This year they totalled over 20 in number, including 6 practicing dentists, an oral surgeon, optometrist and their assistants. The volunteer mission (Canadian optometrist Rex Leyte and dental group Mission Save a Smile from USA) is organized by the Guna non profit Foundation Uaguitupu, president Mariela de la Ossa, born on the island.
The dental program objectives are prevention, restoration and extraction if necessary.
The 600 students (grades K to 9) at Escuela Uaguinaisy are seen first, class by class. Teeth are examined, then comes oral hygiene lessons stressing the need for regular tooth care which are followed by donation of brushes and paste to each student. After a lively few minutes of vigorous brushing at ocean edge (and the removal of white, frothy mustaches from many young faces) the students receive fluoride treatment. Then off they go, hopèfully inspired to be able to proudly show off their healthy teeth to the dentists next year
Sadly, time limits the number of parents who can receive dental attention. However, almost 300 were the beneficiaries of the optometrist´s eye examinations. These are very important especially for the island women who make the well-known exquisitely sewn molas, the sales of which make up a significant part of family income. Good vision is essential for their “invisible” stitching. Many were the happy recipients of the donated eyeglasses.
Over the years, the dentists have created an impressive operation, serving the people of Achutupu with state of the art equipment and high quality professional service “Better than most practices can provide in offices in the States”.