Background The implementation of a successful international health program comes with a constellation of unique obstacles that require a collaborative approach and careful project design. Over the summer of 2006, a Canadian school-based tooth-brushing and oral health education program, “Brighter Smiles,” was delivered to 600 primary school children in four rural Ugandan communities in Africa. The international program resulted from collaboration between the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, BC, and Makerere University (MU), Kampala, Uganda, and was implemented in 2006 by medical and dental students from both institutions.
Methods Initiation of the Brighter Smiles Program in Uganda was requested by MU faculty members and the third-year dental class. Once collaboration was confirmed, planning began. Initial sessions with the UBC medical students were done in the aboriginal communities to enforce the basic program philosophy and teaching. Fundraising and grant competitions were conducted. An initial contact team composed of two medical students was sent to present the basic program at a local conference and then with faculty on board to begin the adaptation of the program to suit Uganda's children's community and write culturally appropriate ethics and protocols. The project then moved into all four communities under the leadership of the Ugandan dental students, who obtained preliminary consents for the project and baseline dental surveys of the children. The main UBC team then arrived for the implementation of the bulk of the project (teaching dental health, brushing techniques, and supply distribution) and while supporting the Ugandan students in this phase of the project saw their collaboration come to life.
Results The 2006 pilot year of the program was embraced by target communities and is successfully under way. Six hundred children received baseline dental examinations and enrolled in the oral health tooth-brushing program. In the coming year, the program will be reinforced in Uganda by another cohort of UBC students. Key relationships were established to act as a substrate for future public health initiatives between UBC and MU.
Conclusion The implementation of the “Brighter Smiles Program” in Uganda demonstrates the importance of solid preparation in advance and how the potential success of a true collaboration between international universities and local communities depends on this logistic preparation.
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