Survey reveals myriad challenges in Malawi’s oral and dental health sector

A latest survey on oral and dental health situation services in Malawi has revealed that oral and dental health problems pose as a major public health concern in the country with prevalence in the urban being the same as in rural areas.

Mipando: College of Medicine has started training dentists.-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

The survey also found that poor access to effective treatment to slow down the carious prevalence has resulted in more suffering and unnecessary losing of teeth among Malawians.

Deputy Director of Clinical Services (Curative) in the Ministry of Health and Population, Dr Nedson Fosiko, presented these findings on Thursday at the two-day workshop for the Oral Health Policy Working Group in Lilongwe.

“The survey shows that oral hygiene-related conditions like dental curies are the most prevalent causes of dental problems in the country with 65 per cent of the population having calculus and 80 per cent of adults having missing teeth. The survey further reveals 40 per cent prevalence of not brushing teeth twice a day and 23 per cent prevalence of tobacco smoking as some of the contributing factors of oral and dental health problems,” said Fosiko.

The workshop, which the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine (CoM) funded through The MalDent Project, drew oral and dental health experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), University of Glassgow (Dental School) and Malawi.

The overall objective of the workshop is to provide a catalyst for the development and strengthening of Oral and Dental Health Services and further stimulate the need for a National Oral Health Policy and Strategy in Malawi.

Fosiko stated that the Ministry of Health and Population wishes to have the National Oral Health Policy in place in the quickest time possible to guide the delivery of the service that is very critical in life.

“This policy is designed to strengthen Oral and Dental Services; improve availability of resources for oral and dental services and improve infrastructure and equipment for oral health services. Furthermore, the policy will lead to improved supplies and technologies for oral and dental services, strengthened health information management, monitoring and evaluation of  oral and dental health services; improved and strengthened leadership and governance of oral and dental health services,” Fosiko narrated.

The Ministry of Health and Population Principal Secretary, Dr. Dan Namarika, said while Malawi has made tremendous progress in the prevention and management of infectious and other common diseases such as maternal mortality and child deaths, the country has lagged behind in the promotion and strengthening of oral and dental services.

Namarika attributed the stagnation on what he described as “vertical interests’ among stakeholders in the implementation of various health-related policies.

He therefore stressed the need to have the National Oral Health Policy in place in line with WHO Regional Oral Health Strategy 2016 to 2025 to ensure there is coordination among the plays.

“While our Ministry of Health and Population is the one that needs to take care of those oral and health conditions, oral health problems are a result of failure of other sectors that promote health. There is need to collaborate with different partners to promote oral health. The key sectors include education, agriculture and food processing industry, gender, children and community development, among others,” said Namarika.

Meanwhile, CoM principal Dr. Mwapatsa Mipando has disclosed that the college enrolled the first cohort of dentistry students who are expected to graduate in 2025.

Mipando said after graduation, the students will boost the number of dentists in the country.

Currently, there are 27 dentists in the country with only seven working in government and four under internship. There are also 20 dentist private practice while there is none Christian Hospital Association of Malawi Hospitals (CHAM) hospitals.

The Malawi Army and the Malawi Police Service also provide oral and dental health services.

At the moment there are about 300 dental therapists on the register and majority of them are working with government.

Only Malawi College of Health Sciences is training dental therapists.

In terms of distribution of health facilities and dental personnel, all the four central and six district hospitals have partially functional equipment while the other 22 hospital needs total replacement.

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