: Changing the tide of dental care
Every morning, François Tounamou wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and spends more than two hours traveling to the Gamal Abdel Nasser University dental school in Guinea, West Africa. He gets to the clinic early and leaves late, sometimes hours after class is scheduled to end. In his spare time, François tutors younger students to earn money to fund his daily transportation costs.
It’s a commitment François is more than willing to make, because he believes in the impact the program will have — not just for his own life, but for all his future patients.
“Through this program with Mercy Ships, I realise that the dental field is not a small profession, but a noble one. It is an important part of taking care of community health,” says François.
His passion for quality dental care started when François was in high school. He watched his mother suffer from a tooth pain for years without being able to access proper care. “That is why I am in the process of training: to be able to help not just my mother, but other people who have the same problem.”
François and his family are from a remote interior region of Guinea, West Africa more than 1,700 kilometres from the capital city of Conakry. François believes every region in Guinea should have at least one dentist — but it’s not that easy. Most of the country’s dentists are located in just one city. François explains that the reason is three-fold. People in remote areas often don’t understand the importance of dental treatment, so dentists don’t get enough patients to make a living for themselves. There is also a lack of proper dental equipment. Finally, limited and unreliable electricity and water pose a serious challenge.
Mercy Ships Partners with Gamal University’s Dental School
In 2018, François was enrolled in a dental program at Gamal University, which offered theoretical courses but lacked practical simulation. He and his fellow students heard of a ship coming to give free care to the people of Guinea. Soon after, Mercy Ships partnered with the university to renovate their dental clinic and provide amplified training, including donating new equipment and offering professional mentoring.
“This dental program really helped me to improve in the dental field. Before, we had courses, but we were not that confident in ourselves,” says François. “When Mercy Ships came, we understood that there is a huge difference between talking about theory and taking practical simulation courses.” Now, with state-of-the-art X-ray imaging, simulation material, and virtual training courses, course participants can directly apply their classroom knowledge in real-time.
François and his classmates eagerly absorb everything they’re taught: “We work very hard to be able to really master everything we’re taught here. Everything we learn meets the quality of the international standards. It is all this that really allowed us to build a competence and to perfect ourselves in the dental field.”
“Thanks to Mercy Ships, today we really recognize ourselves as dentists. I can even say modern dentists, because we learn everything with the international standards in mind.”
Shaping the Future of Guinea’s Dental Care System
As he looks forward into the future, François has big plans for serving his community. After spending some time treating patients with basic dental care, François wants to go on to specialise in oral surgery. But first, he hopes to return to his home region to provide care to patients like his mother: “That is what drives me.”
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