Mercy Ships Provides Vital Dental Training in Guinea

GUINEA, WEST AFRICA — “Every once in a while, my grandpa — a schoolteacher — would get pliers and yank out someone’s aching tooth,” shared Dr. David Ugai, recounting his grandparents’ experience as missionaries in present-day Zimbabwe. “The funny thing is, my grandma never got gifts for being a nurse, but people would bring my grandfather a chicken for taking out someone’s tooth. It probably stuck with me…that that was an area I could make an impact in.”

Years after first hearing those stories, Dr. David, who had become a dentist, signed up to volunteer with Mercy Ships in Guinea. Like his grandparents, he wanted to use his skills to help people, but he had no idea just how great the need would be.

The Gamal Abdel Nasser University, in Conakry, Guinea, asked Mercy Ships to help provide clinical training to dental students. It turns out, this was a huge need.

What started out in 2018 as one-month clinical rotations with Mercy Ships, along with a renovation of the university’s dental school, has morphed into a full-fledged program where students receive supervised advanced clinical training on well-functioning equipment.

Dave UgaiMercy Ships Guinea Country Director:

I started with Mercy Ships in 2012-13 and we are here in Guinea in Conakry. Some days we would see 100 patients and the next day when we came to the screening line it would be a little bit longer.

That showed to me, we could stay in Guinea forever and line would continue to be there. So there had to be some better way to do this than just seeing patient after patient after patient after patient.

There’s a huge need for director surgical care and direct dental care. But if you don’t do something with the medical training, nothing is going to change in the future.

Guinea’s dental system is somewhat disorganized in the fact that you have students graduating dental school without clinical training. You get some dental students that are fantastic but you also have many students that fall out of the system and actually don’t even become dentists in the future.

In 2018-19 Mercy Ships partnered with University of Gamal Abdel Nasser. With that partnership we started working with the dental school. When we started we just planned to renovate the dental school. As we got further and further along, the school came to us and asked if we could incorporate the dental students into our program because they did not receive clinical training during their normal curriculum.

Our program here at Gamal, they have opportunity to do simulation before seeing patients and then when they start seeing patients they go very slowly. So they’re providing quality care for the patients but also quality training for the students.

We have a group of students right now that show up here every day at 7am and they leave at 7-8pm. And in between that time they’re either in clinic or they’re back looking at text books, studying, asking questions, planning for their future and all these steps it’s kind of what you want to see in progression or a student. You’re hoping they become a leader for Guinea, for Africa or the world.

The vision for Gamal Dentist School is not my vision. It’s the vision of the dental school faculty. This project can be an example of how organizations can work much more closely and better with local clinics, local hospitals and helping them and supporting them to implement their dreams and their visions.

But also make it sustainable so when Mercy Ships hands over the dental school completely to the university, they can continue with doing the student clinical training.


About Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building, and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55 developing countries, providing services valued at more than $1.7 billion and directly benefitting more than 2.8 million people. Our ships are crewed by volunteers from over 60 nations, with an average of over 1,200 volunteers each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills. With 16 national offices and an Africa Bureau, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. For more information click on www.mercyships.org.

CONTACT: Diane Rickard, Int’l Media Relations Manager, Mercy Ships, [email protected]


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