U.S. Forces Help With Dental Care in Philippines
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
MARAWI, Philippines, Feb. 24, 2010 For the past 20 years, access to dental care has been challenge in the Philippines, especially in the country’s southern provinces. But with help from local and foreign organizations, health care professionals here are working to change that trend through education and outreach.
A Philippine dentist evaluates a young boy during a day of free dental care and awareness Feb. 22, 2010, in Mawari, Philippines. U.S. troops from Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines attended the event and provided much dental equipment to the clinic. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A small crew of local dentists provided care and consultation to more than 70 patients in Marwi City Feb. 22 and handed out more than 500 toothbrushes. U.S. troops from Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines provided much of the dental equipment and local anesthetics in support of the city’s awareness campaign.
“The [Philippine] and American military has helped greatly in our work for dental and health care awareness,” Dr. Pamela Tabao, a dentist and health services consultant for the Mawari City government, said. “We’re really thankful for their support [and] their help.”
The Philippine government has proclaimed February as Oral Care Month. Local health-care professionals are using the time to raise awareness and to provide free care to poor residents in and around the city.
Similar outreach programs already have taken place in three nearby townships, with a few others scheduled this month.
The initiative is only a minor step in terms of the number of people affected, but considering the high percentage of Filipinos who suffer dental illnesses, the campaign has been a great success, Tabao said.
Much remains to be done, however, as about 97 percent of the Philippine population suffers from dental illnesses such as gingivitis, and that statistic hasn’t changed since 1987, she said. The country is fraught with cultural and economic challenges, she explained, which has made providing education and raising awareness somewhat difficult.
Phil Health, the Philippine government’s version of U.S. Medicaid, provides some drugs and equipment based on the number of people enrolled, but just a small portion of the populace actually participates in the program.
“It is not easy to educate people about dental health programs, and this is true to all of the Philippines,” Tabao said.
Because of the poor economy in Mawari, which is known for its large Muslim population, outreach often relies on foreign and military aid, Tabao said. But she added that with continued support from the Filipino and American militaries, as well as international relief agencies, she remains optimistic and will continue her efforts to educate those in need.
“We want to give service to as many people as we can,” she said. “Our mission, our objective, is to reach out to those who can’t afford to pay. This problem will get better, as we must keep trying.”
The U.S. task force and Philippine military have developed similar relationships with health care professionals throughout the southern Philippines, especially in insurgent strongholds. Dental and other health-care equipment and drugs are purchased in the Philippines