The Kenya initiative started in 2010. The initiative offers dental students the opportunity to implement preventive/early intervention oral health programs in several local primary schools in rural Meru, Kenya and learn about Kenyan culture and history.

Each winter/spring, a team of dental students, dental hygiene students, and two faculty members travel to Meru, Kenya, a rural community of 240,000 people on the northeast slope of Mount Kenya, to implement preventive/early intervention oral health programs in several primary schools in the area. Kenyan dentists, community leaders, school leaders and teachers provide local support. Working in teams, students typically see an average of 1,000 children during the two-week trip. Services provided to all children include oral exams and oral health and hygiene instructions. Those with active dental caries have active lesions treated with silver diamine fluoride (primary teeth), atraumatic restorative treatment (small lesion in permanent teeth), referral to local hospitals for more advanced restorative or surgical treatment, and glass ionomer sealants in permanent molars. All children with active dental caries receive fluoride varnish application as well. In most years, the dental team travels along with students and faculty from UM’s medical, pharmacy, nursing, public health, engineering and/or business schools, who are engaged with their own projects in the Meru area.

Cultural experiences might include traveling through the countryside to see its vast agricultural resources, staying at the Thiiri Cultural Centre in Meru, visiting a local AIDS orphanage, visiting a tea or coffee plantation, visiting local universities, hiking to a nearby waterfall, interacting with local community leaders, attending rounds at a local hospital, and taking a two day safari in one of the many national game reserves.

The initiative began in 2010 as part of the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research’s Kenya Summer Research Program (KSRP). The first several years of the program were devoted to teaching medical, dental, public health, pharmacy, and nursing students how to conduct survey research that included measures of chronic pain, malaria, access to care, and unmet dental needs. This was done at the request of Meru community leaders so that they might use the data to encourage the Kenyan government to invest more in the area.

Initially, the Kenya program was developed to fulfill the new Pathway’s Program graduation requirement for students to conduct a faculty-mentored project. As the Kenya program made the natural shift in focus from research to service, it became a program of the Global Initiatives in Oral and Craniofacial Health (GIOCH).

Third year dental students and dental hygiene students apply for the GIOCH Kenya Program in the fall term and undergo an interview process for selection. Once selected, the team meets regularly through the fall and winter terms to prepare for the trip.