World Medical Association "appalled" at oral mutilation in parts of Africa

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London, Chibuzo Odigwe

The World Medical Association has called for an end to the traditional practice of oral mutilation of infants and has lent its voice to the call for improved dental care services in Africa.

The call was made last week in Nairobi by the association’s president, James Appleyard, at the first ever planning conference for oral health in the African region.

He said, “One of the most appalling customs, referred to as infant oral mutilation, is practised in Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Kenya. The infant’s baby teeth are removed from under their gums by unclean tools, causing pain, suffering, and disfigurement, with damage to the permanent teeth. Some infants die of septicaemia. Others die of tetanus.”

He added that access to dental care was very limited in many parts of the world, particularly where the need was greatest. He said the problem was worse in countries where there was internal strife and armed conflict, such as Sierra Leone and Rwanda, both of which are said to have only around 10 dental surgeons. Ethiopia has 52 dental surgeons for a population of around 63 million. “Without dental services, high risk ‘street dentistry’ is practised in developing countries, using pliers for the knocking out of teeth,” Dr Appleyard said.

In an earlier speech Kenya’s health minister, Charity Ngilu, said, “The problem posed by oral health in Africa is compounded by the fact that budgetary allocation to oral health programmes has been minimal.”

Commenting on the association’s policy, Dr Appleyard said: “We should create change through children. [Our] policy on children is clear. The emphasis is on primary care, prevention, and the eradication of traditional practices prejudicial to the health of the child.”

The three day conference was organised by the World Dental Federation and co-sponsored by the World Health Organization. Over 200 participants from 48 countries attended to discuss issues relating to oral health in the African region.

At the end of the meeting the participants adopted a declaration affirming their commitment to general and oral health as a basic human right and resolving to work together for its promotion.