UB professor expands Syrian aid programs, will train teachers at refugee camps in basic dental care

Children receive dental care at school.

Miles for Smiles volunteers treated hundreds of children per day, filling cavities, performing extractions, delivering oral health education and more. Photo: Othman Shibly

Other programs to increase aid include rebuilding homes and schools in Syria

Release Date: May 30, 2018

Portrait of Othman Shibly
“Training and educating refugee volunteers will not only allow our vision and goals to reach thousands of refugees to improve their oral health, but it will also provide psychological and social support to refugees by making them partners in providing oral health.”
Othman Shibly, clinical professor in the UB School of Dental Medicine

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Dental professor Othman Shibly travels twice a year to the borders of his native Syria to help deliver dental care to more than 2,000 refugee children. The challenge: The number amounts to one percent of the 200,000 children displaced by the ongoing Syrian civil war.

To reach more people and increase the sustainability of care, Shibly is turning to teachers and community volunteers to bridge the gap. Through the University at Buffalo Miles for Smiles program, a biannual mission to deliver dental care to Syrian refugee children, Shibly will lead the training of teachers and volunteers at refugee camps in Lebanon on how to perform basic oral health care.

The training, made possible through a new partnership with Harvard University, Kings College London, and the non-governmental organizations (NGO) Dental Mavericks and Global Steps, will begin in the fall.

The training will be followed by a Miles for Smiles mission in October. If successful, the program will advance Shibly’s goal of providing free oral health care and education to every child who lacks access to treatment due to the war.

“No matter how good we are in our missions, we can only treat so much. It would be impossible to have a significant impact on the oral health of refugees,” says Shibly, DDS, clinical professor in the UB School of Dental Medicine.

“Training and educating refugee volunteers will not only allow our vision and goals to reach thousands of refugees to improve their oral health, but it will also provide psychological and social support to refugees by making them partners in providing oral health.”

Shibly recently completed his 15th mission to the area, during which he, for the first time, expanded care to teenagers and local children in Lebanon. The trip ran from April 30 to May 6, delivering treatment to 900 Syrian refugee children and 300 deprived and socially challenged Lebanese children.

Volunteers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, King's College London Dental Institute, Saint Joseph University of Beirut, and individual practitioners from the United States, France and Kuwait helped Shibly fill cavities, perform extractions, deliver oral health education and more.

Logistics and support were organized by the Syrian American Medical Society, Multi Aid Programs and other NGOs. More than $25,000 of dental supplies and equipment were donated by Henry Schein, Inc., the world’s largest provider of health care products and services to office-based dental, animal health and medical practitioners.

Since 2015, Henry Schein has supported Shibly and Miles for Smiles, by donating more than $120,000 in dental materials and equipment.

“Dr. Shibly’s extraordinary commitment to serving the oral health needs of young Syrian refugees and Lebanese children, combined with his vision for improving the local community’s capacity to deliver care, exemplifies the Henry Schein Cares spirit,” says Stanley M. Bergman, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Henry Schein, Inc.

“No child should go without access to quality care, and we are pleased to support compassionate and selfless health care professionals such as Dr. Shibly and his team in their efforts.”

Beyond teeth

To provide refugees with adequate housing, Shibly is experimenting with a new program to repair homes in Syria in exchange for the owner’s permission to allow refugee families to occupy the house for two years.

With friends, Shibly is financing the project out-of-pocket. They estimate that each house will cost $500 U.S. dollars – or 250,000 Syrian pounds – to repair.

Nearly 70 percent of Syrian refugees live below the extreme poverty line – less than $2 per day, according to the United Nations. The program could provide Syrian families with an alternative to refugee camps, which are often overcrowded and have inhumane living conditions.

Shibly is also working to reestablish some of the schools that he helped create after they were recently displaced by a bombing in Damascus, the capital of Syria. With the help of donations from various organizations, he is assisting the schools’ move to northern Syria.

These students, however, are not refugees. The schools, which range from elementary to secondary, educate the children of families who chose not to leave the war zone. The sooner the schools are settled, the faster they can return to providing a brighter future for thousands of the children affected by the war, Shibly says.

Since 2012, Shibly has helped open or support more than 20 dental clinics in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon; and formed 14 schools in Syria that have taught more than 5,000 children.

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