Dentists survey dental health
PANAMA. Bourne down with backpacks and equipment they trudged and sweated for miles; they climbed mountains, forded rivers, navigated r...
PANAMA. Bourne down with backpacks and equipment they trudged and sweated for miles; they climbed mountains, forded rivers, navigated rapids; they endured days under a blistering and enervating sun and conversely tramped through torrential tropical storms; they suffered mosquitoes snakes and a myriad of unidentified insects; and yesterday they gathered to tell their stories and share their experiences with their colleagues, and glow in the pride of achievement.
No explorers, adventurers, surveyors or prospectors among them. Dentists all, they united at Panama’s Royal Decameron to see and hear audio visual presentations of journeys of a lifetime in all parts of the country, from Kuna Yala and Darien through Colon, Panama, Cocle, Herrera and Chiriqui to Bocas, Los Santos and Comarca Ngobe Bugle.
They were young fresh faced interns who, when they graduated never dreamt of marching six hours straight along mud tracks in steaming jungles to find remote Ngobe or Kuna villages. They had never visualized abandoning a sterile dental surgery to stand masked, gowned and capped alongside huts with no power or running water, to carry out and report full dental inspections of young and old alike.
The young were led by veterans with years of service in poorly funded health centers who volunteered to take part in Panama´s first major survey of the dental health of the nation.
Funded by the government and directed by the world renowned Gorgas Institute, the $500,000 project involved scores of dental workers. Like the porters of old who carried loads for the forty-niners heading for the California gold fields, they humped their equipment, carried tents, water, food and spare clothing, loaded on unstable canoes. At day’s end they often slept in decrepit buildings, and got their water from rivers.
In Darien, away from home for weeks, they battled rapids, killed a threatening snake, forded fast flowing rivers and cleaned accumulated garbage from the ankle deep mud surrounding their stopping places.
In Bocas del Toro, one three person team tramped endless paths high into the hills to remote Ngobe Bugle settlements. They carried their own packs until they managed to hire “Margarita” a packhorse looking as weary as the dentists.
In Chiriqui, climbing became a regular part of the day, and in the interior of Panama “city girls” scrambled out of canoes to walk thigh deep upstream when their overloaded transport grounded.
In other areas they edged across rickety hanging bridges and even the team operating in the relative comfort of Metropolitan Panama had to edge across tree trunks to cross streams and venture into areas listed as “red” in tourist guides, where they needed a police presence.
At the Decameron celebration they sat into the night watching over four hours of presentations, cheering, laughing and applauding as each group told its story.
In the audience were many of the unsung and unrecorded heroes who prepared the program and who have been assembling and coding the hundreds of completed reports.
The analysis will continue at the Gorgas Institute until the final reports is readied at year end. The Ministry of Health, Social Security , the Government and University were represented to take pride in the achievements of public dental workers.
Panama too can rejoice in the dedication of a highly motivated group of professional public servants; so few doing so much, for so many.