Although the title of the talk was ,” A Dental trip through Africa.” the talk was really about the career of Nigel Mallon and his acceptance that although the tasks ahead are often bigger than the available resources, one can always win through by careful planning. As an example of this he sited an occasion in the Falklands war when a British commander had led his troops to a superior position looking down over Goose Green, which was being defended by a contingent of Argentinian conscripts. The Argentinians were well armed and outnumbered the British troops who only had about 25 rounds of ammunition between them. The commander thought about the situation for a while and then decided to talk to the Argentinians under a flag of truce. He told the Argentinians they could fight if they liked and troops would die on both sides but the outcome was inevitable, the British would win because of their superior position. The Argentinians laid down their arms.
His first job was checking buttons in a mental hospital laundry which bored him and after only a few weeks he left. He decided to qualify as a dentist: joined the forces and was sent overseas to Borneo. His commanding officer believed it better to get the good will of the people and so with just forceps and anesthetic Nigel was instructed to take teeth out in the community. In 1991 he served in the Gulf war in the navy and relieved many soldiers suffering from toothache whilst having to do shifts of 6 hours on and 6 hours off.
He came back to Sheffield and bought a dental practice in Broomhill, which he converted to an NHS dental practice. In 2000 he had 150 patients, but he offered free dental checks to the elderly and now he has 11 surgeries and 1500 patients. In 2004 he took a sabbatical and went to a Lutheran Church in Arizona for 3 months. He then went to Ecuador performing extractions. Over 40% of the population there are under 18.
He then went to Rwanda performing extractions on the many political prisoners held in jail since the genocide of 1994. Following that he went to Burundi, the state next door, where there were only 8 dentists for 8 million people. He took with him 12 other dentists and between them they saw 10,000 patients. One of the problems in Burundi is the presence of the Coca Cola factory which sells Coca Cola cheaper than water: hence the people drink Coca Cola in preference to water, which has a disastrous effect on their teeth.
Nigel realized that what they were doing was not making a big impression on the problem, and so he and the team that go with him train, the local aid workers to do extractions and at the end of the training period they give them a certificate and leave them with the dental implements which they take out with them. This is much more beneficial approach to the problem because whilst the newly trained technicians do not do as many extractions per day as Nigel and his team do, who are there for a month or two, they are there doing their work everyday, all year.
Now, Nigel and his team go out to Africa each year for about a month doing extractions and training people to carry on their work in their absence.
The talk was well illustrated with photographs of the people and their dental problems.