Background Prior to this initiative, there was no partnership between the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, and Makerere University (MU), Uganda. Dental students and faculty from MU in Kampala expressed a desire for collaboration with UBC in initiating an oral health improvement project to respond to the poor oral health of Ugandan children in rural areas.
Purpose To enhance medical and dental students' awareness of social responsibility and public health concerns in a global manner.
Methods Under the supervision of faculty, a group of UBC medical and dental students determined that this project had potential to benefit the rural communities and medical and dental students at MU and UBC and communication and planning began to begin in 2006. The “Brighter Smiles Program,” successful at reducing the incidence of oral caries in rural British Columbia, was used as a model for the Ugandan oral health project. This model included community meetings for support, permission for student participation and provision of supplies, education, and follow-up regularly in the community to enhance the dental health of the children.
Results Five UBC medical students, a pediatric resident, and a pediatrician traveled to Uganda to support the MU students and professors in organizing, implementing, and financing the project. The modified Ugandan Brighter Smiles Program began in four schools in rural villages. Teams of UBC and MU students visited each community, presented the program to the school, and obtained consent; 630 students aged 5 to 11 were enrolled. Students received baseline dental assessments, fluoride treatment, oral health education workshops, and a year's supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste. Follow-up will include monthly visits to communities by MU students and UBC students in a year's time. All medical and dental students agreed the project enhanced their educational experience regarding social responsibility, community research, and public health endeavor.
Conclusions This international partnership between universities established “health-promoting school programs” addressing oral health in children in rural Uganda and significantly broadened the educational horizon of the medical and dental students from Canada and Uganda.
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