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Fortitude and resilience in service of the population: a case study of dental professionals striving for health in Sierra Leone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
JournalBDJ Open
Issue number1
Early online date13 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

King's Authors


Objective: Sierra Leone (SL), with a population of over 7 million people, has a critical health workforce shortage. This research explores the views of key players on population oral health needs and demands, the challenges of oral and dental care delivery, and professional careers in dentistry, in order to inform future capacity building. Materials and methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of key players in dentistry and healthcare, both in-country and externally. An interpretive phenomenological approach was used in exploring views of key-players on the oral needs and demands of population, challenges in the delivery of oral and dental care, professional careers of dental professionals in SL, and future workforce capacity building based on a topic guide drawn from the available literature. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, anonymised and analysed using QSR NVivo 10 for data management and reported in accordance to the consolidated criteria for reporting qualitative research. Results: Twenty-one informants, of whom 18 were male, 17 were in-country and 16 were dental professionals, participated in the research. Dental professionals reported clear consensus on a considerable level of unmet oral health needs, most notably dental caries and periodontal disease, together with life threatening oral conditions such as osteomyelitis, Ludwig’s Angina and Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Challenges associated with the delivery of dental care revolved around five themes: patients’ predisposition for traditional remedies and urgent care; practical hindrances to the delivery of care; professional isolation and weak governance; and place with pressing local crises and lack of political will. An emerging typology of dental professionals included: demonstrating loyalty to their nation and family; exhibiting resilience in challenging circumstances; embracing opportunity most notably amongst expatriates; and striving to serve the needs of the population. There was support for innovative future capacity building developments. Conclusion: This paper provides important insights to the delivery of dental care in a low-income country with significant oral health needs and multiple challenges in the delivery of dental care, whilst also providing a vision for developing, building and retaining future human resources for oral health.

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