„Too many sweets, not enough brushing!“

Dr. Bärbel Drumm gives freely of her time to “Cargo Human Care” in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. Cargo Lufthanseat accompanied the dentist on her assignment.

“It won’t hurt. It’s just like a little mosquito bite.” The woman in the green lab coat speaks reassuringly to the young patient. Six-year-old Margret’s wide eyes betray her worry. Dr. Bärbel Drumm holds a syringe in her hand. The little girl opens her mouth gingerly – and is very brave.

Ten minutes later, after the anaesthetic has taken effect, Margret is sitting once again in the improvised dentist’s chair, which is actually the examination chair of an ear, nose and throat specialist and has a back that can now be tipped backwards as well. Hey presto – the first tooth has already been pulled.
Once Drumm has removed the second broken baby tooth from the child’s mouth, she says what she is to repeat many times that day: “Too many sweets, not enough brushing.” Judith, the local nurse, translates into Swahili. It’s the same story for almost all children and most adults – they have been eating too many sweets and not bothering sufficiently or at all about dental care.

Drumm has long come to terms with the conditions: “This is Africa. You have to accept this or you’ll come unstuck early on.” This also includes accepting that a drill bought for a lot of money has never been properly used. The high-tech piece of equipment was always temperamental. The fine sand in the air in particular led to the manufacturer cancelling the warranty.

The dentist from Kaiserslautern is celebrating something of an anniversary this time. This is her 20th visit to Kiambu, a deprived area in the north-east of Nairobi.

The Anglican church set up a children’s home and orphanage there in 2002. Fokko Doyen, Lufthansa Cargo fleet manager, became aware of the aid project and the plight of local people two years later by chance. Doyen joined with Dr. Sven Sievers, then Chief Physician at the gynaecological hospital in Bad Neustadt, to launch the Cargo Human Care project in 2004. Since then, doctors of all disciplines have been regular travellers on the MD-11 freighter to Nairobi, providing their services there voluntarily for three to four days.

Dr. Bärbel Drumm goes into raptures when comparing current conditions with those when she first arrived. In 2004, she still had to work “in a corrugated-iron hut with a stamped clay floor.” The hygiene standards were modest: “We’re almost operating in the lap of luxury today.” The floor is tiled, the instruments are sterilised, the patients’ files are kept on a computer.

In the treatment room next door, Frankfurt-based paediatrician Dr. Thomas Berger says, “Our facility is now up to the standards of a German GP.” However, there is always the need for new modern equipment. The ultrasound machine was donated by a specialist in internal medicine who gave up his practice – and is correspondingly old. The ear, nose and throat equipment isn’t the most modern piece of kit anymore either. The same applies to the scales used to weigh babies. However, paediatrician Berger feels similarly to dentist Drumm: “We’re here in Africa. Different standards apply.” Often the intuition and experience of the doctor have to compensate for the medical equipment. That doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. “I’ll definitely come a 21st time to see the gleaming eyes of my patients after their treatment”, avows Dr. Bärbel Drumm.