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The World Health Organisation (WHO) logo is seen near its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Reuters

WHO calls for targeted investment to tackle oral diseases in Africa

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The growing burden of oral diseases in Africa can be curbed by investing in hygiene education, human resources and robust clinical interventions, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said as people mark World Oral Health Day on Wednesday.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, noted that the continent is an epicenter of oral ailments such as dental caries, gum disease and tooth loss, which affect 44 percent of the population.

“Despite the innovative measures of our regional team, our region has had the largest increase in cases of major oral disease in the past 30 years of the WHO’s six regions,” Moeti said in a statement issued in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

The theme of this year’s World Oral Health Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of good oral health to people’s overall health and well-being, is “A Happy Mouth is A Happy Body.”

Moeti observed that many oral diseases can be prevented by avoiding risk factors like tobacco and alcohol use, adopting sugar-free diets, and brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day.

She decried underinvestment in oral health across Africa, where 70 percent of countries in the WHO African region spent less than one U.S. dollar per person on treatment costs in 2019.

In addition, half of the countries in the WHO African region lack oral health policies even as the continent grappled with a chronic deficit of oral health workforce, registering partly 0.33 dentists per 10,000 population, one-tenth of the global average, said Moeti.

She said the WHO and its partners have been strengthening African countries’ capacity to prevent and treat oral diseases, as well as integrating them into the universal health coverage agenda.

Moeti added that capacity building for community health workers combined with evidence-based research will be key to taming the burden of oral diseases in Africa.

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