My colleague and friend Niall Rogerson, who works with me on the MalDent Project, was closely involved for several years with the establishment of the new Bachelor of Dental Surgery programme at the University of Rwanda. The initial connection had been made via a former University of Glasgow clinical academic, Professor Phil Cotton, the founder Dean of the University of Rwanda Medical School and subsequently the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Rwanda.
The experience gained by Niall at the University of Rwanda has been very helpful as we develop the new BDS programme at the University of Malawi College of Medicine.
Dental students at the University of Glasgow Dental School undertake an elective project over a period of four weeks between BDS 4 and BDS 5. For many years Niall was the Academic Lead for our electives programme and in 2017 one of our students, Katy Wood, spent four weeks at the University of Rwanda Dental School. In 2018, two more Glasgow students, Graeme Brown and Rebecca Baird, chose to visit the University of Rwanda Dental School for their elective study where they collaborated with Rwandan dental students in oral health improvement projects.
There is a long-standing criticism of international health electives that the educational benefits tend to flow to the developed countries, with little possibility for students from low- and middle-income countries to be advantaged by studying overseas. We were determined that this should not be the case as the Glasgow – Rwanda Dental School partnership developed and in 2018 we were able to identify funding to support an elective placement in Glasgow for a dental student from the University of Rwanda.
The Dean of the School of Dentistry, Doctor Chrispinus Mumena, identified a level four student who he believed would be particularly well placed to gain maximum benefit from undertaking an international health elective. The student he selected was Bizumuremyi Karebu. During his time in Glasgow, Karebu followed a busy academic schedule …
and sampled many scenic and cultural delights of Scotland:
By chance, Karebu’s visit to Glasgow coincided with a visit by Dr Mwapatsa Mipando from the University of Malawi College of Medicine, one of the main driving forces behind the Maldent Project. It was a very happy coincidence that we were able to make this introduction.
One of the highlights of Karebu’s elective placement in Glasgow was a meeting with one of our Professors of Dental Public Health, David Conway. Their discussions stimulated great interest in the Scottish Government Childsmile Programme and how such an oral health initiative could be transferable to Rwanda. On his return to Rwanda, Karebu grasped the nettle and has written the following blog post which describes the initial steps he is taking with colleagues to develop a Childsmile model suitable for use in his home country:
Bizumuremyi Karebu’s story – the Bwiza Childsmile Initiative
The Bwiza Childsmile Initiative has been established in Rwanda with reference to the Childsmile Programme in Scotland. It aims to promote and improve the health and wellbeing of children in Rwanda and to reduce inequalities in both dental health and in access to dental services.
The idea of Bwiza Childsmile arose in 2018 when Bizumuremyi Karebu (now a BDS Final Year student at the University of Rwanda) visited the University of Glasgow as part of an exchange programme between the two Dental Schools.
On his return to Rwanda, Bizumuremyi Karebu linked up with intern Dr Ndisanze Amini and a BDS Final Year student, Habumugisha Jean Marie Vianney. They sat together and took the initiative to establish Bwiza Childsmile. Bwiza Childsmile was launched officially on 8th May 2020. It launched with its first online campaign called the “TESTIMONIES CAMPAIGN” in which families took pictures and videos practising oral hygiene and shared them on social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram and tagged their friends. At this time the country was in total lockdown and children were not at school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so this was an activity they could undertake from home.
At the end of this campaign the country was lifted from lockdown to curfews, so we were able to conduct an outreach campaign in a rural area of Kigali City, in Jabana sector, Bweramvura Cell. We have raised the awareness of oral hygiene practices and COVID-19 preventive measures within this community and we have distributed more than 1000 toothpastes and biodegradable toothbrushes to the families and children.
Happy families and children after receiving their oral health education, toothbrushes and toothpaste
The aim of the Bwiza Childsmile Initiative is to reduce inequalities in both dental health and access to dental services. We are working on a new project called the “CROCO SMILE PROJECT” which will be based on providing oral health education basic materials such as posters, videos, games and also handwashing education to nursery and primary school children. We will also introduce daily supervised toothbrushing for nursery and primary school children, and provide basic oral health training to the community health workers.
This post illustrates the value that can be gained by providing carefully designed elective experiences for senior undergraduates and the positive influence it can have on these individuals and their peers after they return to their home institutions. It was a pleasure and a privilege to host Karebu’s elective studies at the University of Glasgow and especially exciting to see the activities now ongoing in Rwanda that were stimulated by his visit to Scotland.
We are now in the process of linking Karebu and his colleagues with Ronald Manjomo, who is undertaking a PhD at the University of Malawi College of Medicine with a focus on developing a Childsmile type of intervention that would be applicable in Malawi. The potential opportunities for joint working and learning are extensive and we look forward to developments in 2021 and beyond.
Once the pandemic permits, we look forward to welcoming further students from Rwanda and other sub-Saharan African countries to Glasgow. The Maldent Project is all about partnerships and the involvement of young oral health professionals like Karebu, who are enthusiastic and motivated, is what will maintain its momentum and impact into the future.