Zim in historic move to harmonise provision of mental and oral health


Bulawayo (New Ziana)-A group of medical practitioners is implementing a project to also provide oral health care to mental health patients throughout the country after discovering that there was a link between the two.

Oral health refers to the health of the teeth, gums, and the entire oral-facial system that allows people to smile, speak, and chew.

Some of the most common diseases that impact oral health include cavities (tooth decay), gum (periodontal) disease, and oral cancer.

Under the project, known as the Oral Health for Mental Patients Project Zimbabwe, mental health practitioners are being trained to deliver the basic package of oral health for patients suffering from mental disorders as well as those on drug abuse therapy.

At least 20 mental and oral health professionals underwent a trainer of trainers training in the capital, where a manual on mental and oral health was also formulated to ensure local health providers adhere to international standards.

The trained practitioners will train other mental health professionals in institutions such as Ingutsheni in Bulawayo, Ngomahuru in Masvingo and others.

In an interview with New Ziana at the Ingutsheni Central Hospital on Friday, Oral Lung Axis Trust director Cleopatra Matanhire Zihanzu said the project was launched in 2019 by a collaboration of some dental professionals and mental health professionals, through their respective professional associations.

She said the project will help mental health professionals to identify basic oral health conditions in persons with mental illness so that they can provide care for both.

“We discovered that during the discharge of our duties as dental health practitioners, a lot of mental health patients and patients who had substance abuse challenges were presenting with numerous health conditions that were well advanced because they were not getting access to dental treatment and even so, getting treatment in time so that the disease could be stopped before it is advanced.

“We carried out research amongst the two professions (mental health and oral experts) and we discovered that only approximately 1.4 percent of mental health professionals had received formal oral health care management training. They indicated that it would be good for them to receive some training and in addition, for some resource manual that could be used as a reference document in the management and welfare to improve the knowledge practices and attitudes of mental health professionals when they are attending to their patients,” she said.

Zihanzu said the first phase of the project, which ended in June 2022, was funded by the International Dental Federation with the involvement of the Zimbabwe Dental Federation, the Zimbabwe Dental Association, the Zimbabwe College of Psychiatrists, the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the University of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Life project.

She said the University of Zimbabwe Partnership for Education Training and Advancement funded the second phase, and they were now rolling out the project with responses that they got in the first phase.

Ingutsheni Central hospital will run as a pilot project for the Matabeleland region after 25 participants from the mental health profession in Bulawayo received training, after which the programme will be decentralised to other provinces.

New Ziana

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