In March 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic forced Dentaid to postpone all overseas volunteering trips. The prevalence of the disease, restrictions on international travel and pressure on healthcare services in the countries we visit, meant it was not practical, legal or ethical to run overseas volunteering trips at that time.
Dentaid has been very grateful to all our volunteers for their understanding and patience. We have also been heartened by the number of new volunteers who have contacted us about joining future trips.
While we hoped that our volunteering programme would recommence in 2021, the trustees and Dentaid’s clinical advisors, in consultation with Dentaid staff, have reluctantly concluded that this won’t be possible.
We are now working towards restarting our volunteering programme in February 2022 at the earliest.
Several factors have led to this decision including;
1. Advice from our travel insurance company that cancellation due to Covid would not be covered by any policy. Nor would there be any cover for costs incurred or guarantee of repatriation if volunteers tested positive for Covid while they were away. Furthermore, there is no cover if a country is placed on the UK government’s “red list” while a team is away requiring volunteers to isolate in a hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 on return to the UK.
2. The NHS is not currently offering other immunisations required for travel.
3. Data on the efficacy of the vaccine programme on stopping the transmission of the virus has not been fully assessed.
The countries Dentaid visits have not yet started mass vaccination programmes – particularly in the remote communities that teams travel to. Dentaid feels that more time is required to evaluate the effect of the vaccine on transmission and that the safety of our patients must be paramount.
4. Dentistry carries a risk of infection and social distancing would be a concern due to the demand for outreach clinics which attract up to 250 patients a day. Many other international aid charities have yet to recommence overseas volunteering programmes and their activities would be deemed as lower risk than providing dental care.
5. Uncertainty about new variants of Covid-19. More African countries were added to the red list on March 19th 2021.
6. Testing and quarantine arrangements in the countries we visit add costs, limit itineraries and reduce clinical time available to help patients.
7. Uncertainty about travel corridors and the possibility of vaccine passports.
Dentaid feels that more time is required to assess and evaluate the situation with international travel, the effect of the vaccine programme on preventing transmission, the threat of new variants and the steps required to protect our volunteers, trip leaders and patients.
Sending volunteer teams too soon could result in situations that cause financial and reputational damage to our charity that could impact on our ability to run all other areas of our work. Furthermore, we want to ensure that our trips are safe, enjoyable experiences for our volunteers with all the social and cultural opportunities normally associated with Dentaid’s overseas volunteering programme.
We know this will be disappointing news to those who hoped to volunteer with Dentaid this year, but we feel that by taking the decision now we can focus on the many months of preparation it will take to safely restart trips to Uganda, Cambodia, Malawi and Morocco in 2022 – provided we can be assured that the points listed above can be addressed.
We will keep the situation under review and will only restart trips when the conditions have been met and we gain approval from our board of trustees.
Once trips do recommence, our priority will be placing existing volunteers onto trips before offering places to those on the waiting list. All funds raised will be directly transferred to new trips and we will correspond with each team by email.
In the meantime, Dentaid has many volunteering opportunities for dental professionals in the UK providing outreach dental care on our mobile dental units for homeless and vulnerable people including refugees.
These people are some of the most marginalised people in our society today who struggle to access oral healthcare, the difference our clinics make can be life changing.
You could help us make a difference, so please if you can spare the odd day, we would be very grateful for any offers of help to run these clinics. Please contact email@example.com if you would like to find out more about other ways to volunteer and support Dentaid. Finally, Dentaid would like to thank all existing and future volunteers for their understanding and support.