Dr. Hashim Chothia, Seattle: I was inducted into the Academy of Dentistry International in Hawaii in 2009 and into the Pierre Fauchard Academy in 2010, and continue to be involved in volunteer work in dentistry in China. I have served as the director of the HVO China Program from 2005 to 2010. The construction of the dam on the Yangtze River at an initial estimated cost of $11 billion in 2002 first sparked my interest in China. I visited the construction project during November 2000. The first flooding of the area was scheduled to occur in February 2003. The purpose of the dam was to provide hydroelectric power for a large part of the population that did not have these facilities. During that time I decided to visit the dental schools in Beijing and Shanghai. I had some friends in Hong Kong who were planning on starting some clinics in both cities. I met with them in Beijing and learned about the oral health conditions in China. It was obvious that dentistry was not a priority among the majority of the population at that time. Since then, things have changed rapidly, and the development of virtually all sectors in China is nothing short of spectacular.
With the help of a local periodontist, Dr. Er-Jia Mao, who had attended the University of Sichuan dental school, I first established contact with Professor Deyu Hu, who was director of oral health in Sichuan Province. With the help of Professor Hu and in conjunction with Health Volunteers Overseas, the volunteer program for China was established. I directed the program together with Professor Hu from 2005 to 2010, when it was terminated by the HVO committee due to difficulties at the site in the wake of the earthquake that struck Sichuan in May 2008.
That earthquake really took its toll on the people of Sichuan. One of the coldest winters on record had descended on them, and more than 1 million families displaced by the earthquake were left without proper homes. These homes had to be rebuilt under severe weather conditions. In one rural area, about 6,500 people were living in tents after the earthquake.
The earthquake killed more than 70,000 people, injured 374,000 and left millions homeless. About 20,000 people are still missing. There were considerable difficulties in determining an accurate number of schoolchildren who died because verifying the figure was a complex process. After the magnitude 8 earthquake struck, more than 31,000 aftershocks were reported, with the strongest measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale.
It was an extremely difficult time for the people of Sichuan and they needed help more than ever. The figures for the losses sustained were staggering. Unless one was in direct contact with these people, it was extremely difficult to imagine how difficult it had been for this population. During that time, construction for the Olympic Games was also in progress. Rebuilding in the aftermath of the earthquake was slow due to concentrated efforts at the Olympic site. Most skilled labor was transferred to Beijing to complete the Olympic venue. The 2008 Olympic Games was a phenomenal success.
Subsequently there has been rapid progress, and the area has been restored to a large extent. Even though HVO chose to discontinue the program, I felt it my duty to continue with my efforts in China. I have remained in contact with doctors in Sichuan, Beijing and Guangzhou and have continued with grass-roots efforts in rural and remote areas where services continue to be deficient. I have been trying to establish a mobile dental service for the rural areas in Sichuan. However, the costs are high and with the present economic conditions, this is a difficult task. Contributions are difficult to obtain and progress is slow. However, I remain hopeful and will continue the effort. I travel to China at least once or twice a year to continue my work, utilizing my own finances.
For many years, China was shrouded in mystery. Travel within the country was extremely difficult and many restrictions were present. However, things have now changed considerably. China has opened its doors to the world, and there are now numerous travel opportunities to explore this incredible country and the thousands of years of history it has to offer. I believe a trip to China is incomplete without visiting the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, the new Olympic Complex, the Terra Cotta Warriors and the numerous other places of interest.
I have been involved with volunteer efforts to improve dental services worldwide in underserved areas. Much expertise is needed to develop and improve services, especially in remote areas, particularly those that have large populations. Expertise is required in the areas of curriculum development, improvement in clinical instruction, continuing education for educators in developing countries and basic dental services with an emphasis on sterilization and infection control. Volunteers are continuously needed, and numerous organizations provide these opportunities. I would highly recommend that all dentists consider volunteering as a means to give back to communities locally or anyplace where services are needed. It is a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. A list of organizations involved in relief efforts can be obtained from the American Dental Association. (Fall 2011)