The Palestinian Territories came under Israeli occupation in 1967. Since then the situation has worsened by violent conflicts and battles between Israelis and Palestinians. According to OCHA 42% of the Palestinian population in Gaza and on the West Bank has depended on humanitarian aid since 2015. The vast majority are denied basic human rights such as free movement, work, basic services, and personal freedom.
The World Bank estimates that 25% of Palestinians live below the poverty line. If you subtract the large number of people who depend on food and financial aid from the UN, the poverty rates would most likely double.
Our investigation in the West Bank in 2014 showed that 45% of the tested children between the ages of 6-12 suffered from toothache, and on average each child had 1.6 teeth with caries all the way to the nerve.
Palestinian children consume a huge amount of sugar, unhealthy snacks, and sugary drinks daily. Dental health is not a priority for the average Palestinian family with many of them lacking knowledge about the consequences of bad dental hygiene. The poor financial situation is making it impossible to pay for treatment once the tooth ache sets in.
In addition, the geographical barriers resulting from the conflict with Israel is cutting people off from access to dental clinics. With dental clinics often located in bigger cities, the rural population is mostly cut off from treatment.
The development project in Palestine is scheduled to run for 2½ years. It includes 29 schools with a total of 7,500 children from the ages of 6-12 years. The schools are located in the most marginalised areas of the occupied West Bank; Bethlehem and Hebron.
The purpose of the project is to improve the dental health of vulnerable children and to increase their access to dental care. This is done in order to easy their tooth aches and improve their wellbeing. With less tooth ache they can focus on school and they are given better life possibilities.
Through daily toothbrushing programmes the knowledge of dental care is spreading and strengthened in the communities – and especially in the schools. Teachers, volunteers and local health staff gain knowledge about dental health and they learn how to treat and prevent infections and dental diseases.
Besides the work with the schools, TUG works on a political level advocating for school based dental programmes at both regional and national level. The existing health strategy in Palestine focus on diagnosis and treatment and less on preventive dental care, education, and knowledge of dental health. We demonstrate how the Palestinian authorities can make better use of the scarce resources by prioritising prevention in their health strategy.
The project is called ASMA – an Arabic abbreviation for “Healthy Teeth, Better Future”. It is funded by a Danida grant from CISU. The project is run in collaboration with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), a nationwide, Palestinian Health NGO with 30 years of experience. PMRS helps about 1.5 million Palestinians each year towards better health in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
We educate school teachers to conduct the daily toothbrushing programmes at their schools.
We also train local healthcare professionals, dentists, and dental students in school-based prevention of dental disease.
The goal is to demonstrate to the Palestinian authorities how much there is to gain by prioritising prevention in the national health strategy.
As part of our development project in Palestine we send out two dental missions a year. The volunteers provide emergency treatment and teach the school children about toothbrushing and dental health.