billingham

TEESSIDE DENTISTS COME TO THE AID OF REFUGEES

A GROUP of four practising dentists and dental nurses have returned this month from a week-long visit to Northern Greece where they provided vital treatment to refugees.

After fundraising for almost eight months, Dr Paul Averley, Dr Uzma Olbrich, Hannah Bell and Katie Fergusson all from Queensway Dental Clinic in Billingham, volunteered at the busy refugee camp, organised through medical relief charity Health-Point Foundation.

Over five days, 90 patients were treated including many with professional backgrounds such as solicitors and teachers, alongside families, the young and old – the majority of which have travelled from Syria.

With the closing of the Macedonian border, thousands of refugees are stuck in Greece, unable to move into the rest of Europe. In addition to treating the patients, the dentists and dental nurses spent time speaking to families about oral health and how to look after teeth.

To facilitate the trip, the Queensway team took part in a number of challenges and activities from a London to Paris bike ride and an open water swim in the Lake District to bake sales and raffles with Middlesbrough Football Club, of which Queensway is a local Gold Partner.

Managing partner for nearly 25 years, Dr Paul Averley even sold organic hand-picked potatoes grown in his garden in exchange for contributions. The combined campaign helped to raise £3,000.

These funds covered travel expenses for dental nurses Hannah and Katie, who are both from Billingham, enabling their efforts to be doubled, as well as much-needed supplies. The dentists self-funded their own places and with money still left, it is going to make another visit in 2018 possible.

Dr Uzma Olbrich who visited the country to provide dental aid said: “It is difficult to describe what it is like for those living in a refugee camp. Circumstances are hard, facilities are basic, the winter is cold and sanitation is shared between hundreds. You cannot legally work so the refugees live hand to mouth. They rely on clothing donations and we saw a lot of people who didn’t even own a pair of shoes.

“More worryingly, children left by themselves are not safe due to trafficking being prevalent and rife. All-in-all, life in a refugee camp is as tough as it can get so we are lucky that we can offer our services and provide emergency dental care for people who have no access to healthcare unless they have visits from volunteers.”

Health-Point Foundation is a charity that relies on volunteers to give their time and expertise to make a difference to those in need.

Ola Hassan, dental lead and trustee at Health-Point Foundation said: “Our mission is to help create smiles for refugees because tooth decay is a huge issue among the camps. Wherever possible, the dentists worked to save the teeth using the limited resources rather than extracting. The Queensway dentists are very experienced and so we are keen to have them back again as they can take on the more complex work.

“The level of dignity and respect they showed towards the beneficiaries was impressive, taking time to get to know the people and have peer to peer conversations. It was never just about purely restoring teeth but also restoring confidence and the faith in humanity for many people who came across the team – letting them albeit for a moment forget that they were living in a refugee camp and reminding them that they matter and people do care.”

Dr Olbrich explains: “This isn’t continuous which is why we are committed to sending a team at least once a year. Whilst there, we run a number of oral health sessions with children and adults to offer preventative advice and brushing techniques that hopefully instigate good habits and aim to ease dental woes once our volunteers leave the camp. A translator is used in some cases to better communication, however there can be four or five languages spoken in the camp which can make things difficult – we did sometimes have help from the children!

“The big problem is now in Lesbos where refugees arrive on a daily basis and all are contained in one big camp – growing by as many as 1,500 per month. The Health-Point Foundation is going to try and focus on Lesbos in the next year as the need there is more acute, and this is where we are hoping send a team in spring 2018.”

Dr Paul Averley added: “We’d love to annualise the volunteer project here at Queensway, whether that be in Northern Greece or elsewhere in Europe. All of our employees are given the opportunity to get involved through the fundraising or going themselves so there are always plenty of willing volunteers. However, none of it would be possible without the generosity of our patients on home soil, so we’d like to thank everyone who donated and we hope they can see the positive impact made.”

For more information on Health-Point Foundation, visit: https://www.healthpointfoundation.org/

Media contacts: Lauren Hedley or Sally Crossley at O PR, Tel: 0191 232 5690, Email: lauren@opr.co.uk