A Conversation with Doreen Matumbi


Doreen Matumbi is a dentist in Kenya and has worked alongside multiple international NGOs to bring dental services to impoverished communities. She has assisted Zosseo Overland Support with technical preparation for our 2018 programs and offered recommendations for hosting successful clinics in isolated areas. We sit down with Doreen to learn more about her experiences in the field, as well as help spread her vision for increased access to health care in Kenya.

Zosseo Overland Support: First off, will you share a bit about yourself?

Doreen Matumbi: I'm from a town in Eastern Kenya called Meru. It's the 6th largest urban center in the country and is located on the edge of a forest overlooking the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kenya. Meru is only 5 miles south of the equator! I'm a Community Oral Health Officer (COHO) and graduated from Mt. Kenya University in 2013. During my studies, I completed a dental fellowship and have now worked in dentistry for over 3 years.

ZOS: What made you want to become a dentist in the first place?

DM: Throughout my entire childhood, I never met or knew of a single dentist in my community. As I grew up, I realized how much trouble my people went through to seek out dental treatment. That's what gave me my motivation. To date, I'm still the only dental practitioner people in my locality have ever known.


ZOS: A Kenyan oral health survey found that nearly 3 in 10 Kenyans avoid smiling due to their teeth. Over 98% of adult Kenyans have signs of gum disease and the vast majority of the people go years without visiting a dentist, only visiting due to pain. Considering these statistics, what barriers do you see to improving oral health care throughout the country?

DM: There are actually several problems I would like to highlight. The first and most obvious is that we simply do not have adequate dental personnel.

ZOS: In Kenya, there are only about 1,000 dentists serving the country of over 48 million people.

DM: Exactly. Realistically, incoming dentists will be concentrated in urban areas. Poor infrastructure in rural areas means people living in remote areas are inaccessible. There are few or no dental facilities set up in rural areas. Another problem is poverty. The majority of people in rural areas live below the poverty line. This makes dental services unaffordable. People view dental services as expensive. Add on top of that illiteracy and language barriers, and it's a challenging problem to approach.


ZOS: So, based on your formal education and experience in the field, what's the solution?

DM: We need to set up more dental clinics and government facilities, beginning with the grassroots level. We need to fairly distribute resources, equipping health facilities with the capacity to provide dental care. I also think we must introduce oral education into our curriculum and improve accessibility by making dental services affordable. While we achieve these goals, we need to increase the use of mobile dental clinics.

I want people who support this cause to know how appreciative the patients are who receive these services. These services can be life changing.

ZOS: So, one of your goals is to enable individuals can take control of their oral health.

DM: Definitely. In my clinics, the most common advice I give to patients is to brush their teeth at least twice per day, and to remember to brush at night. With access to a toothbrush and toothpaste, this is in their control.

ZOS: What part do mobile clinics have in your model for success?

DM: Mobile clinics are very effective. In brick and mortar clinics, patients travel long distances and wait long periods to seek out services. Mobile clinics cut down on the time needed to access services. They also reach places that are otherwise inaccessible due to poverty and a lack of infrastructure. We need to be at the forefront of promoting basic oral care in Kenyan communities. Making dentistry a priority in healthcare starts on the grassroots level and mobile clinics are a great way of reaching people.

ZOS: Now that you've seen this in action and contributed to programs in the field, how can Zosseo Overland Support and other organizations promoting health care be most effective?

DM: First, be consistent. Ensure that services are brought to communities in need. Demand is very high and we find that the greatest need is located in the hardest-to-reach areas. Second, allow the community to embrace you. Make sure they both need and want your services. Lastly, get feedback from your communities and follow up whenever possible.


ZOS: Before we wrap up, we'd like to hear about your most memorable patient.

DM: Mohamed Hassan. He was 89 years old and from an arid area of northeast Kenya. He told me that he had never received dental services in his life. He had sought out herbal medicine to numb the pain for several severe oral problems because the nearest dental facility was 250 miles away! I extracted a few of his teeth. When I was done, he filled with overwhelming joy because the pain was gone. To show his appreciation, he returned every single day of our two-week clinic to say thank you. I want people who support this cause to know how appreciative the patients are who receive care. These services can be life changing.

ZOS: Thanks for sharing this story and your time with us, Doreen. The last question is the easiest: What's your favorite safari animal?

DM: Lioness. It's a fierce animal that gets what it wants, isn't intimidated and is always up for the chase.