Lock Haven students, faculty improve dental health in rural Jamaica | News, Sports, Jobs

LHU students and faculty attended a mission trip to rural Harmons, Jamaica, to provide dental care to children in the area.

LOCK HAVEN — Lock Haven’s short term study abroad and international service-learning programs have been providing students and faculty the opportunity for mission trips to the rural village of Harmons, Jamaica, since 2015.

The program is a cooperative effort between Dr. Amy Way, health science professor and international service-learning program coordinator; Jennifer Bell, physician assistant faculty; and Won by One to Jamaica (WBOTJ), a nonprofit organization located in the rural community in south central Jamaica.

During past trips, the mission groups have run a health clinic, visited schools and an infirmary and built houses and foundations for the people of Harmons. The groups have also focused on dental care, providing each of the children who attend school in the community with a toothbrush, as well as applying fluoride varnish to each child between the ages of 3 and 12 every year, and educating them about proper brushing and food choices.

Each year, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (PA AAP) provides 150-200 varnish kits for the project. The remaining kits needed are provided by donations from area dentists and a toothbrush drive organized by the Clearfield Campus Activities Board.

With its emphasis on the care of underserved populations, Lock Haven physician assistant students regularly participate in this program. The students have received training on how to apply the varnish through the “Healthy Teeth Healthy Children” continuing medical education program offered by the PA AAP.

LHU students and faculty assisted children in Harmons, Jamaica, with their dental hygiene.

“We know that we are providing toothbrushes to each child, but behind that child are parents, grandparents and likely siblings that we don’t see who are in need. We rely on donations to provide us with enough varnish for each student. We would never want to have to turn a child away, so it’s important that we secure enough donations each year to meet the need,” Way said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lock Haven group has not traveled to Jamaica since 2019. Way returned to Harmons in January of this year and again with Bell at the end of July to begin research initiatives and to connect with the mission, schools and parents about their oral health initiative. They also brought varnish, toothpaste and toothbrushes to supply the schools for the start of the school year.

“Our students have been sponsoring twin girls through the mission’s school sponsorship program, and the Health Science Club has been organizing vitamin drives for us each year. So, while we have not been able to be there as a team since 2019, we are still engaged with the community,” Way said.

Last spring, the Jamaican Ministry of Health (MOH) set up a dental clinic for students in grades one through six in the WBOTJ facility where dental exams, cleanings and fluoride treatments were performed. Each student also received a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. WBOTJ and the MOH have partnered to host these dental clinics three times yearly for two primary schools in Harmons.

A new preschool dental program initiative through the MOH and WBOTJ began this fall for Harmons students. The teachers were instructed on the best way to teach preschoolers how to properly brush their teeth. Each child was given their own toothbrush and toothpaste to be kept at school and every day following lunchtime, the teachers have the children brush their teeth.

A child in Harmons, Jamaica, learns proper brushing technique as part of a mission trip attended by LHU students and faculty.

“We are very excited about this program,” said Beth Fellers, medical director for Won by One to Jamaica. “Teaching the importance of dental health early in life will hopefully make a difference in the overall health of our friends in our community. It is our responsibility to provide the children with toothbrushes and toothpaste to be replaced every three months. This is a big undertaking, but well worth the effort.”

“Our students have been working for years to educate the community of Harmons on the importance of oral health,” Bell said. “We are so excited to be able to have the Jamaican Ministry of Health recognize that this initiative for children is an effort worth partnering with.”

“Thank you to Dr. Way and faculty member Jennifer Bell for their leadership in this initiative. It serves as a wonderful example of service in action and demonstrates the power of students coming together and using their professional skills to make a difference in the world,” said Dr. Bashar W. Hanna, president of Commonwealth University.

The Lock Haven group is working with WBOTJ to help provide the toothbrushes, toothpaste and fluoride varnish needed to support these initiatives and must rely heavily on donations to ensure the children of Harmons are getting the dental care that they need.

A donation page has been created by the Lock Haven University Foundation to help with gathering monetary donations for the dental health project in Harmons. To make a donation, please visit www.givegab.com/campaigns/lock-haven-health-science-mission-to-jamaica. For toothpaste and toothbrush donations, please contact Amy Way at away1@lockhaven.edu or Jennifer Bell at jbell3@lockhaven.edu.

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