MADANG PROVINCE, Papua New Guinea — If this nation had even one dentist for every 10,000 citizens, that would be an improvement, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. As it stands now, there are many villages here that rarely receive dental care — if ever. That’s why it was with the utmost gratitude that many people greeted the m/v PACIFIC LINK, a ship carrying 50 volunteers, when it began hosting dental clinics in the region in January. It was the first cycle of outreaches for the vessel, which is committed to serving the northern islands there for the next five years.
Ship manager Julie McLaughlin said during the outreaches in January, many people — including a lady who sought treatment for an abscessed tooth named Bernadette — were relieved of persistent physical suffering.
“She had her tooth pulled at our dental clinic in Madang and was so happy to have it removed. She said it had been causing pain for more than a year,” said McLaughlin, noting that Bernadette’s pain left almost immediately after the infected tooth was pulled.
YWAM Ships Kona director Brett Curtis said he looks forward to hearing more stories like Bernadette’s so that Papua New Guinea citizens aren’t faced with desperate choices.
“We all can recall vivid pictures in the movie ‘Castaway,’ when actor Tom Hanks knocked his tooth out with a stone. Many who have never seen a dentist in their lives actually do this to relieve inflamed abscessed pain,” Curtis said.
Overall, dental volunteers saw 652 people at screening, saw 273 patients in the clinic, extracted 317 teeth, restored 71 teeth and saw 22 clinical referrals.
If access to dental care was not a problem in Papua New Guinea, affordability would be. Most citizens there earn less than $3,000 per year. Nick Cizej, who oversees communications for YWAM Ships Kona, visited Papua New Guinea during the PACIFIC LINK‘s Madang outreaches. There, he met a man named Jacob, a wharf security worker whose financial plight illustrates why hundreds of people took advantage of the free dental services offered aboard the ship.
“He’s from the highlands — about a day’s drive from Madang. He works this job to send money home to send his four children to school. He makes 3 Kina per hour, which is roughly $1 and apparently that’s a good job. He goes home about once every month to see his family,” Cizej said. Jacob was able to get a dental appointment aboard the PACIFIC LINK.
“We were also able to get him into our dental clinic and we cleaned his teeth and were able to save one of his molars,” Cizej said.
Curtis said these kinds of stories underscore why dental care is an urgent need.
“No village has the capacity to thrive when there are so many sick all the time. Caring for these people means the bread winners can go back to work and be productive almost immediately. That’s good for the family and good for their village as well” Curtis Said.
Curtis also cheered the PACIFIC LINK’s dental and medical outreaches to Bagabag and Kar Kar islands off the coast of Madang.
“According to the CEO of the Madang hospital, in his living memory he has never heard of dentists going to Bagabag Island,” Curtis said. “We were the first.”
Robbert van Schuylenburg works in the front office at Port YWAM Ships Kona and has been to Papua New Guinea aboard the PACIFIC LINK as a dental volunteer and as the purser. He said if his experience is any indication, he expects the ship to have a significant positive effect on Madang Province.
“It was cool to see the effect that the ship had on an area, on a village that you really see a transformation in the way that they’re thinking — that they take care of themselves instead of letting their teeth rot away,” van Schuylenburg said referring to areas where the ship’s dental volunteers had been.