Every morning, Francois Tounamou wakes up at 4:30am and spends more than two hours travelling to the Gamal Abdel Nasser University dental school in Guinea. He gets to the clinic early and leaves late, sometimes hours after class is scheduled to end. In his spare time, Francois tutors younger students to earn money to fund his daily transportation costs.
It’s a commitment Francois is more than willing to make, because he believes in the impact the program will have — not just for his own life, but for all his future patients.
“Through this program with Mercy Ships, I realise that the dental field is not a small profession, but a noble one. It is an important part of taking care of community health,” says Francois.
Francois’ passion for quality dental care started when he was in high school. He watched his mother suffer from a tooth pain for years without being able to access proper care. “That is why I am in the process of training: to be able to help not just my mother, but other people who have the same problem.”
Francois and his family are from a remote interior region of Guinea, more than 1,770 kilometres from the capital city of Conakry. Francois believes every region in Guinea should have at least one dentist — but it’s not that easy. Most of the country’s dentists are located in just one city. Francois explains that the reason is three-fold. People in remote areas often don’t understand the importance of dental treatment, so dentists don’t get enough patients to make a living for themselves. There is also a lack of proper dental equipment. Finally, limited and unreliable electricity and water pose a serious challenge.
Mercy Ships Partners with Gamal University’s Dental School
In 2018, Francois was enrolled in a dental program at Gamal University, which offered theoretical courses but lacked practical simulation. He and his fellow students heard of a ship coming to give free care to the people of Guinea. Soon after, Mercy Ships partnered with the university to renovate their dental clinic and provide amplified training, including donating new equipment and offering professional mentoring.
“This dental program really helped me to improve in the dental field. Before, we had courses, but we were not that confident in ourselves,” says Francois. “When Mercy Ships came, we understood that there is a huge difference between talking about theory and taking practical simulation courses.” Now, with state-of-the-art X-ray imaging, simulation material, and virtual training courses, course participants can directly apply their classroom knowledge in real-time.
Francois and his classmates eagerly absorb everything they’re taught: “We work very hard to be able to really master everything we’re taught here. Everything we learn meets the quality of the international standards. It is all this that really allowed us to build a competence and to perfect ourselves in the dental field.”
“Thanks to Mercy Ships, today we really recognise ourselves as dentists. I can even say modern dentists, because we learn everything with the international standards in mind.”
Shaping the Future of Guinea’s Dental Care System
As he looks forward into the future, Francois has big plans for serving his community. After spending some time treating patients with basic dental care, Francois wants to go on to specialize in oral surgery. But first, he hopes to return to his home region to provide care to patients like his mother: “That is what drives me.”