Wisconsin Dentists Serve in Haiti Mission
Wisconsin ICD Fellow Dr. Chris Hansen and Dr. Paul Feit have led dental missions to Los Cacaos, a remote central mountain region in Haiti. “I was motivated by parishioners at our church who served humanitarian missions in Haiti. When I learned from them about the need for basic healthcare amidst tremendous poverty, I knew I wanted to serve”, stated Dr. Hansen. Dr. Feit, who now practices in Florida, said, “I felt like it was time to start working on my bucket list”.
For three years, beginning in 2018, these trips were part of an ongoing mission sponsored by a Dominican Nun from Brazil, Sr. Maria Marciano, based in Pedro Santana, Dominican Republic. Serving in the mission were 3 other local dentists, support staff and lay volunteers, including spouses. Local support was provided by Haitians volunteers who work closely with the team and patients, providing Creole and Spanish translation services.
Because of the rugged terrain and lack of infrastructure, the estimated 12,000 inhabitants in the area have had little access to medical and dental care and most have never seen a dentist or doctor. The dentist to population ratio in Haiti is dismal; there is only 1 Haitian dentist for every 100,000 people and this disparity is even worse in this rural area served by the mission team.
The Wisconsin dental team departed Milwaukee on each trip to arrive in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic with almost 800 lbs. of supplies in bins carrying dental instruments, antibiotics, analgesics, anesthetics, and other essentials. Parcels went through customs and were loaded on a bus, making the 6-hour trip from Santo Domingo to the border town of Pedro Santana, where the dental team was housed.
While only 4.5 miles away from the home base, it took over 45 minutes via the “International Highway”, actually a very bumpy and rutted dirt road, in the back of Daihatsu pickup trucks to travel to the village of Los Cacaos. Clinical operations were set up using donated equipment in the newly constructed Agricultural Center, built with the help of volunteers from parishes in the Green Bay Diocese. Patients were screened by a Haitian nun who worked closely with Sr. Maria and were transported to the clinic in the back of a truck or they came on foot or by donkey.
Each day dozens of people were waiting patiently in line in the hot sun outside the facility when the dental team arrived at first light. Treatment was organized using the Mission of Mercy template; exam/screen/ prioritize/ anesthetize and provide clinical treatment as needed. All exams were done in waiting area, we prioritized the patients in pain with obvious signs of clinical infection. This was an organic, learning process and we were getting better and more efficient as the clinic week went on.
From 2018 to 2020 in 3 mission trips, there were over 1100 patients served, providing needed extractions of 2000 teeth, placing numerous restorations and Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) applications. The focus of these initial missions was for pain relief and to deal with acute infection and dental disease. Because of the COVID pandemic, political unrest and riots in Haiti, the mission trips were suspended for 2021 and 2022.
Unfortunately, the local the environment is not safe for foreign volunteers to serve within Haiti. There are still have plans for a permanent clinic presence with medical and dental services offered by a combination of American volunteers and Haitian trained dentists. Until it is safe to go back in to serve, what can be done for now is to provide financial assistance remotely through Sister Maria’s Mission Foundation.