THE World Health Organisation has disclosed that more than 480 million people suffer from oral diseases in the African Region.
According to the global health agency, the oral diseases are dental caries, periodontal disease, and tooth loss, noting that this happens despite the fact that most of them are preventable.
In a message to commemorate World Oral Day on March 20, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the burden of oral diseases reflects significant inequalities, with marginalised populations disproportionately impacted.
She said, “For example, noma is a disease that destroys the mouth and faces of mostly young children. If left untreated, it is fatal in 90 per cent of these cases. As a marker of extreme poverty, it is primarily found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Factors contributing to oral diseases include an unhealthy diet high in sugar, smoking, harmful use of alcohol, poor hygiene and other social determinants. These are the same factors also responsible for non-communicable diseases.
“As such, there is a unique opportunity to prioritize oral health as a means to contribute directly to reducing NCDs and their associated risk factors. In this context, in 2016, member states endorsed the Regional Oral Health Strategy 2016-2025: Integrating oral health into NCDs prevention and control towards Universal Health Coverage.”
World Oral Health Day is marked annually on 20 March, to raise awareness around the importance of oral health.
WHO has always advocated for good oral health, stressing that it is, after all, an important contributor to overall good health, wellbeing and quality of life.
Dr. Moeti noted that the WHO has supported countries, technically and financially, to implement the regional strategy.
Activities to mark the day include the development of national strategies, building health worker capacity, establishing an efficient workforce model to accelerate the implementation of oral health policy options, and the strengthening of integrated surveillance in collaboration with different partners.
“For example, through the WHO Africa Regional Programme on Noma Control, 10 priority countries have been supported to establish and implement an integrated national noma control programme. Cabo Verde, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Senegal and Zimbabwe were also supported to develop and implement national oral health strategies.
“An oral health training course for community health workers, with a view to seeing them share responsibility for oral health promotion in communities, is being developed.
“Today, 38 member states in the WHO Africa Region have an oral health unit in their ministries of health, while 17 have at least one national oral health document. Access to appropriate fluoride toothpaste to prevent dental caries is being promoted by many member states, and more than half of all Member States are defining oral health services in standard essential healthcare packages,” she said.
WHO, however, decried the lack of political will and commitment shown by some countries, noting that is contributing to low priority status for oral health.