Tonga - Mission Report 1997 reviewing the oral health programme

Mission Report on Oral Health in the Nuku'alofa, Tonga
14 - 19 November 1997
by Dr Wong Hee Deong


Objectives of mission:

  • The purpose of this mission was:
  • To review the national prevention and school-based oral health programme for children;
  • To identify the problem areas in which WHOs future support should be focused.

Summary of activities, findings, conclusions and recommendations:
The writer reviewed the national oral health programme for schoolchildren with Dr Moi Tapealava, Chief Pcntal Officer, and Dr Tevita Vau. Senior Dental Officer responsible for the school progranime. The school programme had been badly disrupted by the hurricane that hit Tonga in 1997. Dr Vau and his staff were recalled from the school programme to staff the Vaiola Hospital Dental Clinic. The transport used for dental equipment and staff to and from schools had been withdrawn permanently. Thus, it was impossible to resume the school programme. Due to lack of funding, to date Dr Vau had not been able to make supervisory visits to the Ha'apai and Vava'u groups of islands in which a school-based programme had recently been started. A nationally coordinated development of the school programme was not yet possible.

An uneven spread of patient attendance throughout the day at the Vaiola Dental Clinic had required more clinical staff to be posted there than necessary. Possible solutions to this problem and others that would lead to the release of Dr Vau and his team were discussed with Dr Moi.

The problems currently faced in the school programme, possible solutions and urgent support needed by the programme were also discussed with Dr Laumeesi Malolo, Director of Health and Mrs Suliani Vi, Planning Officer.

Recommendations include:

  • Staffing is necessary to ensure continuity of service and development of the school oral health programme.
  • The posts for dental therapist trainees should be created as soon as possible to enable their replacements to be recruited and to ease the staff shortage being experienced.
  • Efforts should be made to distribute or evenly spread workload on attending to patients at the Vaiola Hospital Dental Clinic enabling a probable reduction in the need for clinical staff.
  • The school programme should be resumed immediately in Tongatapu.
  • The responsible officer for the school programme should visit the outer islands with appropriate financial support to ensure more uniformity and better coordination of the programme activities. To support this, guidelines on the operation of the service should also be prepared.