World Oral Health Day celebration leaves lasting impact, sparks government action on oral health
Earlier this year on World Oral Health Day, the Zimbabwe Dental Association (ZIDA), together with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and other partners, organized an event to raise public awareness about the importance of good oral health and offered tips on how to maintain consistent and effective oral hygiene habits for a healthy mouth and body. The celebration welcomed close to 2,000 people.
In addition to dental check-ups for all attendees, the event featured students from primary schools and high schools who came together to write, direct and perform in a series of short plays to illustrate the importance of good oral health education.
One play depicted a family with limited oral health knowledge: When a young boy experiences a painful toothache, his family tries different herbs, solicits prayers from pastors, uses holy water from faith healers, applies ointments from traditional healers, and employs other remedies to treat his condition. A neighbor then advises the boy’s family to go to a dental clinic where he is promptly treated by a dentist. According to ZIDA, this is how many families approach oral health in both rural and urban areas.
FDI interviewed Dr Mandy Sibanda, who shared encouraging developments in oral health policy and reported on evolving attitudes towards oral health in Zimbabwe following the World Oral Health Day celebration over eight months ago.
Dr Mandy Sibanda
FDI National Liaison Officer from the Zimbabwe Dental Association and director of oral health services at the Ministry of Health and Child Care in Harare
One component of the celebration was a play about a boy with a toothache, who is finally treated at a dental clinic after trying other remedies first. Do you think this play has shifted individual attitudes about oral health in your community?
Yes, I do. Soon after the World Oral Health Day celebration, we held several oral health education and screening outreach projects around Zimbabwe for children of all ages as well as adults. The children are beginning to recognize that these so-called home remedies are “folk tales” and do not provide actual relief or solve the problem of the toothache. The mindset of the older children seems to have changed the most - they are more confident in their newly acquired knowledge and have taken up the role of educating the younger ones.
It’s been about 6 months since the WOHD celebration in Harare – have you noticed lasting impacts following the event? At the community level? At the government level?
On a community level, we have noticed an increased interest in oral health and oral healthcare. We had a strong traditional media and social media presence during our celebration; since then, we have noticed continued activity on these platforms. A local mining company also donated a dental chair and dental equipment worth over US$10,000 to one of the state-funded dental clinics soon after our World Oral Health Day activities and I do strongly believe that this increased interest in oral health was a result of our celebration. We also have a stronger relationship with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education – they have put our World Oral Health Day celebration as a permanent feature in their annual calendar. I believe that the impact will continue to grow.
Is there a national oral health action plan in place in Zimbabwe? Is the action plan integrated with the noncommunicable disease (NCD) action plan?
This plan is still being formulated and will certainly be integrated with the NCD action plan, as we have adopted the common risk factor approach. We are also part of the task team that is preparing the STEPS Noncommunicable Disease Risk Factors Survey. Our National Oral Health Action Plan is guided by the latest WHO recommendations on oral health, found in The Regional Oral Health Strategy 2016 – 2025: Addressing Oral Diseases as Part of NCDs.
Through its work to promote World Oral Health Day, ZIDA and its partners are optimistic that they can help shift attitudes around oral health and keep people informed about the availability of dental clinics and best practices for a quality daily oral care routine.
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World Oral Health Day is celebrated every year on 20 March. It is an international day to celebrate the benefits of a healthy mouth and to promote worldwide awareness of the issues around oral health and the importance of oral hygiene to looking after everyone old and young.