April 2019 saw the third batch of University of Adelaide Postgraduate students, together with Professor Craig Dreyer, volunteering with the ABSO Timor-Leste Cleft Lip Palate Project. The project was started by Dr Mark Leedham, Dr Simon Freezer, and Dr Kit Chan in 2013, when the Begg Society discussed commencing a project and enquiring after volunteers. The project is also in liaison with a team of surgeons headed by Mr Mark Moore, head of the Adelaide Craniofacial Unit, and plastic surgeon, in managing cleft lip palate patients in Dili, East Timor.
We met Dr Leedham in Darwin, the night before we continued our journey to Dili, where he gave us a briefing of what to expect, as well as to pass some generously donated dental supplies for the clinic for us to take along.
The next day we travelled to the Prontu Atu Serbi Clinic (PAS, which translates to Ready To Serve), where we were being based for the few days. A number of cleft lip palate patients were seen in the clinic, of varying severities and ages, for new examinations, follow ups and continuation of their Orthodontic care, which aimed to provide some improvement of positions of ectopic teeth and smile. It was an eye-opening experience working with these patients, and seeing the significant orthodontic and facial improvement that can be achieved with the combined management of surgery and orthodontics. It’s a well-run project, the patients were contacted and transported by the lovely Maria. We worked alongside the very adept and friendly dental therapist, Domingos, who was capable of managing complex dental care including endodontic lesions and extractions, assisted by Juanita. Domingos, also acted as our translator whenever necessary, which proved very helpful. Patients were also lovely, patient and grateful for the care provided. Outside the clinic, the swarm of children were also very happy upon the distribution of chocolate, treats and toys, and gleefully attacked as an expression of their appreciation.
Operating under limited settings was an interesting experience, with the need to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, such as not having access to suction and power shortages, and working in the dark, with a flashlight. Funnily enough, three power shortages were timed right before a digital scan of patients’ dentition was about to be attempted as part of new patient records and for the making of pressure formed retainers. However, fourth time was a charm! An inventory was also taken to note some common orthodontic equipment that would come in handy for the next Orthodontic team.
Over our trip, we were treated with the utmost generosity and hospitality by the Timorese team, who kept us well fed and nourished with seven course meals for lunch and caffeine, which we were grateful for.
All in all, a great experience for the Adelaide postgraduates to be a part of and to witness the good work by the ABSO Project and all the teams involved. With little public healthcare funding, the need for dental and medical aid and training in Dili is obvious, showing how important it is to continue and further develop the work of this project. We have really appreciated our time here and would like to thank the ABSO for the opportunity, and to extend our gratitude to the Timorese team for treating us so well during our time here.
—Amy Ho, Adam Wahab and Celine Chan
Third Year University of Adelaide Postgraduates