In six days, dental professor launched first clinic in Iraq to treat families displaced after ISIS attacks

Dentist working in patient's mouth.

During the Khanke Camp clinic’s first weekend, Shibly performed cleanings and extractions for four women. Photo: University at Buffalo

UB’s Othman Shibly to return to Iraqi Kurdistan on March 31 to treat 2,500 children

Release Date: March 8, 2019

Portrait of Othman Shibly.
“The Yezidis were in desperate need of dental care. Dental care that could not only enhance their health, but their self-esteem and create an opportunity for healing.”
Othman Shibly, clinical professor and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the UB School of Dental Medicine

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Othman Shibly did not plan to perform any dental work during his first visit to Iraqi Kurdistan. However, a six-day trip to assess the needs of a Yezidi displacement camp led the University at Buffalo professor to launch the camp’s first dental clinic.

The new dental clinic, established in the Khanke Internally Displaced Population Camp in Duhok, Iraq, will provide the area’s nearly 16,000 women and children with their first oral health care in five years.

The clinic was established with the support of the Global Motherhood Initiative, UB School of Dental Medicine, University of Duhok College of Dentistry, Henry Schein Cares Foundation and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

Shibly will return to Khanke Camp with several UB School of Dental Medicine alumni to deliver oral health care to 2,500 children from March 31 to April 4.

“The populations that are most affected and vulnerable during times of war are women and children,” says Shibly, DDS, clinical professor and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the UB School of Dental Medicine.

“The Yezidis were in desperate need of dental care. Dental care that could not only enhance their health, but their self-esteem and create an opportunity for healing.”

From concept to clinic in six days

Shibly is no stranger to launching dental clinics with limited time and resources. Since 2012, he has helped open and support more than 20 dental clinics for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

When representatives from Global Motherhood Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that integrates health care with trauma therapy and psychosocial support, learned of Shibly’s efforts, they invited him to Iraqi Kurdistan to assess the oral health needs of the Yezidi community living in Khanke Camp.

Khanke Camp is home to 16,000 people, mostly women and children, who became displaced in 2014 after an attempted genocide by the Islamic State destroyed their communities. Thousands of the women are victims of sexual violence.

No dental services have been offered in the camp since its inception. Although care is available in the nearby city Duhok, few of the camp’s residents have the money or resources available to pay for treatment or transportation.

During Shibly’s visit on Jan. 31, he found cases of severe gum disease, tooth decay and broken teeth.

“Some of my friends told me that the work I’m doing to help Syrian refugees is enough, and any more would be too much. I told them what I always say to my students at UB, we should be like the sun. Anyone under it, human or animal, should feel its warmth,” says Shibly.

“I hope that what we at UB did, and will do, for the Yezidi women will be a step toward their healing. No woman in this time and age should suffer these types of abuses and crimes.”

To start the clinic, Shibly relied on both previous partners and establishing new connections with organizations in the area.

Global Motherhood Initiative and Yezidi leaders helped him secure a location in Khanke Camp for the clinic. The group hired a plumber and electrician to supply the building with water and power.

The Henry Schein Cares Foundation supported the mission by providing dental instruments and supplies, and the UB School of Dental Medicine’s Miles for Smiles program helped cover the cost of locally purchasing a dental unit (including a chair, sterilizer and amalgamator).

Shibly also partnered with the University of Duhok to gather manpower. More than 100 dental students from the university will support the mission trip at the end of the month.

During the clinic’s first weekend, Shibly performed cleanings and extractions for four women. When he returns on March 31, he plans to treat thousands of children. He will be assisted by School of Dental Medicine alum Yousef Al Awadhi, DDS, a pediatric dentist based in Kuwait.

Building a sustainable model

To establish consistent care in Khanke Camp, Shibly secured funding from SAMS to hire a full-time dentist to work in the dental clinic.

He also aims to train and hire several Khanke Camp residents as community health care workers. The program would provide members of the Yezidi community with jobs and broaden access to basic oral health preventive care treatment, such as filling cavities and delivering fluoride varnishes.

The program is being tested in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. Shibly, with the help of SAMS and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation, trained and hired six full-time health care workers from refugee communities to assist camp dentists in providing care.

Shibly will return to Lebanon in May to evaluate the quality of their work and survey parents and children on the workers’ performances. If the program is deemed successful, the model will be implemented in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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