In early June, 2015, the Semiahmoo Dental Outreach (SDO) team ventured to Iquitos, Peru for the first time. With a population of 500,000, Iquitos is the largest city in the world without road access. At the upper end of the navigable Amazon River, it is only about 300 feet above sea level, with a deep water port 3600 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, 23 days by cargo ship. The river rises and falls over 40 feet each year, its high water occurring about the end of May.
We were seven dentists, three hygienists, two chair side dental assistants, and several additional volunteers. The dentists were David Larsen, Les Ennis, Ken Stones, Joan Eaton, Liz Johnson-Lee, Monica Kasprzak, and Laureen Distefano. Hygienists were Christine Penn, Alyssa Philbrick, Deb McDonald, with Chairside Dental Assistants, Kim Radons and Vickie Craig. Also helping were Rick Stones, Sue Williams, Roy Radons, John Craig, Alex Bondarchuk and Laurie Bricker.
We brought equipment and supplies for seven operatories, and over a week treated 275 patients, with a BC fee guide value of $99,567. Our focus, as always, was prevention and restorative treatment, with extractions as required and some endodontic treatment as well. Other international groups are also attempting to help the people of Iquitos. We discovered that the “Amazon Promise” group provides another dental clinic in Iquitos (www.amazonpromise.org).
Our clinic was set up in the facilities of the “People of Peru Project” (www.peopleofperu.org). The team worked extremely well together adapting to the hot, humid, rainy and muddy conditions. There are always interesting challenges when working in a new location, and this was no exception. The clinic required a lot of work to get it ready; Rick, Sue and Ken spent three days to have it open for the Monday start. The biggest challenge was repairing the compressor and hoses: it was a creative process that involved sourcing some of the unusual parts required and then installing them. We did manage to get operational for the scheduled opening of the clinic.
Another challenge was that for most of the week locals were blocking the road that gives access to the clinic in protest against its terrible condition. Huge muddy potholes impeded travel and caused trucks to overturn daily. This meant we could not bus patients to the clinic as planned. We were kept busy, instead, by the numerous patients who lived nearby. Fortunately, the roadblock opened up for the dental team as they recognized the value in our work. The food truck with out lunch, lacking such recognition, was not permitted passage. However, after the driver and food crew left and returned in scrubs, they were allowed to pass and feed the hungry team. All in all, it was a very successful clinic. We rose to the challenge and assisted many people.
Iquitos has many displaced indigenous people who have had to leave the rainforest to try to find employment to support their families. This has resulted in a large number of very poor people who totally lack health care. None of our patients could afford their required dental care. The majority had not had previous dental treatment. We treated these local residents and, after camping overnight in a village on the Amazon, the next day we also treated the locals there.
Report by Ken Stones
Photography by Les Ennis