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Open Access Research

Cameroon mid-level providers offer a promising public health dentistry model

Leo Ndiangang Achembong1*, Agbor Michael Ashu2, Amy Hagopian1, Ann Downer1 and Scott Barnhart1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Global Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105, USA

2 Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board, P.O. Box 1, Nkwen-Bamenda, NWP, Cameroon

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Human Resources for Health 2012, 10:46  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-10-46

Published: 26 November 2012

Abstract

Oral health services are inadequate and unevenly distributed in many developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. Rural areas in these countries and poorer sections of the population in urban areas often do not have access to oral health services mainly because of a significant shortage of dentists and the high costs of care. We reviewed Cameroon’s experience with deploying a mid-level cadre of oral health professionals and the feasibility of establishing a more formal and predictable role for these health workers. We anticipate that a task-shifting approach in the provision of dental care will significantly improve the uneven distribution of oral health services particularly in the rural areas of Cameroon, which is currently served by only 3% of the total number of dentists.

The setting of this study was the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (BCHB), which has four dentists and 42 mid-level providers. De-identified data were collected manually from the registries of 10 Baptist Convention clinics located in six of Cameroon’s 10 regions and then entered into an Excel format before importing into STATA. A retrospective abstraction of all entries for patient visits starting October 2010, and going back in time until 1500 visits were extracted from each clinic.

This study showed that mid-level providers in BCHB clinics are offering a full scope of dental work across the 10 clinics, with the exception of treatment for major facial injuries. Mid-level providers alone performed 93.5% of all extractions, 87.5% of all fillings, 96.5% of all root canals, 97.5% of all cleanings, and 98.1% of all dentures. The dentists also typically played a teaching role in training the mid-level providers.

The Ministry of Health in Cameroon has an opportunity to learn from the BCHB model to expand access to oral health care across the country. This study shows the benefits of using a simple, workable, low-cost way to provide needed dental services across Cameroon, particularly in rural areas.

Keywords:
Mid-level dental providers; Oral health; Dental care; Health workforce; Task shifting; Rural health care; Africa; Cameroon