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News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin September 2010
32 SEPTEMBER 2010 East Timor and Australian DENTAL VOLUNTEERS The seven year old Toyota Prado began the first of a dizzying array of hill climbs and, from the front seat, Ross glanced over his shoulder, and smiled. "No straight roads once we leave Dili." He was right. Dr Ross Brandon is the Chief Medical Advisor for Clinic Café Timor (CCT), the healthcare division of Cooperativa Café Timor, a member-owned coffee processing and marketing cooperative. He has been working in East Timor for more than 11 years and is the key architect and manager of the Cooperative's health programme. Over the week that we travelled together, Ross demonstrated a caring and focussed passion that is quite imperfectly camouflaged by a light veneer of ironic understatement. Travelling over, arguably, some of the world's worst roads provided me with an immense amount of respect for Toyota's 2003 product -- and also for its owner. As we traversed the countryside the high-axled car frequently bottomed out. Often literally centimetres from precipitous and clearly deadly sheer slopes, the vehicle made it through in one piece -- and so did we. More importantly, the land of East Timor (Timor-Leste) has passed through its own 'bottom out' of civil unrest in 2006. East Timor is one of Australia's closest neighbours. The capital, Dili, is closer to Darwin than Sydney is to Brisbane. It is one of the world's newest nations and is also one of the world's poorest. It needs our help -- now. Australians have had deep historical and cultural links to East Timor, which were deepened when Australia stood with the emerging nation in 1999 and lead the peace keeping troops of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET). It is now safe to visit. It welcomes -- and needs -- our help. For Australian dental volunteers, East Timor is attractive, close, safe and a place where short-term trips focusing on support and education of the local dental profession can make a real and lasting change for good. A REAL AND LASTING CHANGE FOR GOOD IS GREAT -- BUT WHY EAST TIMOR? In the rural Emera district I spoke to Paolo Amaral, a government 'dental nurse.' In the middle of a busy morning this well spoken, obviously intelligent young man told me that he was the only dental practitioner in the district. He had recently completed a three year training course in Indonesia and now he was directly responsible for the care of a staggering 95,000 people. His most advanced piece of equipment was a slow speed contra-angle handpiece driven by a lab motor. Clearly, the needs are immense. In this country of just over one million people, the infant and maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world.1 This means that right now --- and for at least the next five years --- it is expected that the East Timorese government will, quite correctly, worry mostly about babies and mothers dying and very little about teeth. Priorities are necessary after all. This is where the Australian dental profession comes in. What our East Timorese colleagues need, and are asking for, is to have assistance in areas that are off their nation's priority list for now. Clinical help, mentorship and education of the few existing personnel are what the Australian profession can offer. But, not forever. We can offer a programme that has a finite life, a real outcome on the ground and a catalyst for change at all levels. They need our help and are asking directly for it. Two weeks in East Timor, or even just a week, has the potential to improve many lives and make changes that will have many positive outcomes. This is one of those moments in time when we can make a significant and lasting difference. The winding roads continued as we toured the mountainous interior for the duration of the journey that visited all but one of the CCT medical clinics. Crossing a ridge, high in the Emera district, it was possible to look out either side of the vehicle and view a 500 metre drop on both left and right of the one lane track --- both less than one metre from the road edge. We were on a knife-edge and it caused me to reflect that so too were the people of East Timor. The difference was that the knife-edge road soon came to an end on our short journey. For the people I met in East Timor, their whole life is a knife-edge journey that is too often cut short. HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA'S INVOLVEMENT East Timor's journey is one marked by Australian involvement. In 1942, a part of the small Australian army 'Sparrow Force' HEALTH STATISTICS FOR EAST TIMOR* • For every 1,000 live births, 4.4 babies die in Australia each year while in East Timor, 83.5 babies die; • Maternal death is even worse -- 380 mothers per 10,000 births die in East Timor versus four per 10,000 births in Australia; • The average life-span is very low -- especially in the remote rural regions (Ermera, Ainaro and Manufhai) where to live past 60 years old is still rare. Mountainous rough roads and local transport. * Ministério Do Plano E Das Finanças Direcção; Nacioal de Estatistica. Timor--Leste Census of Population and Housing 2004. Dili: Gráficia Pátria, December 2005.
ADA News Bulletin August 2010
ADA News Bulletin October 2010