The UNC School of Dentistry Malawi Dental Project has been awarded the 2013 Dr. Thomas J. Zwemer Award from the American Dental Association Foundation for its work with an underserved population outside the U.S.
“It is an absolute honor for our project to win the Zwemer Award from the ADA Foundation,” said Dr. Jennifer Webster-Cyriaque, faculty advisor for the Malawi Dental Project. “Unfortunately, there are fewer than 20 Malawian dentists in the country to provide care to a population with extensive dental need. Each year, the project members impact hundreds of Malawians by providing oral care, oral education to orphans and HIV/AIDS education during their time in Malawi. Without projects like this, many Malawians would go their entire lifetime without seeing a dentist. As such, this project makes a significant difference to an incredibly underserved population, and we’re grateful for the recognition from the ADA Foundation. Our African colleagues are wonderful and the experience is tremendous for the students.”
The annual award, which is now in its second year, recognizes a dental school student program annually that provides services to underserved populations outside the United States. As the winning outreach project, the Malawi Dental Project will receive $5,000 from the ADA Foundation in support of their efforts.
The University of North Carolina has a longstanding history providing service to Malawi, originally through the UNC Project Malawi conducted through the School of Medicine. That project, in existence since 1990 and based in Lilongwe, provided the School of Dentistry a starting point for its outreach. The Malawi Dental Project, now in its eleventh year, allows four UNC School of Dentistry students pursuing a Doctor of Dental Science degree to travel to Malawi for three to four weeks to provide oral hygiene education, HIV/AIDS education and basic dental care. Malawians without oral pain and active disease will receive preventive treatments, and those needing surgical care will be provided the correct emergency and/or restorative treatment. The students see patients at the Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, at a home for children in Mzuz, and in several small villages.
Worldwide, Malawi is the eighth poorest country and has the ninth highest adult prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. Despite its population of sixteen million people, the country has only 30 dentists to treat its citizens. Malawians often cannot afford a dentist, let alone physically travel to a dentist, making access to dental care one of the nation’s largest problems.
“After spending a month in Malawi caring for people who have never seen a dentist, our students come back from this trip forever changed. Over the decade, I can say without reservation, that the Malawi Project has been life changing for each student and has impacted their approach toward dentistry and toward service,” said Webster-Cyriaque. “The impact they make in the short time in Malawi, the warm heart of Africa, makes an impression that encourages and warms the heart of service in their lives and careers.”