Children in the Dominican Republic have very little oral disease compared to children in the United States.
"I've been amazed, whenever I come here, how little periodontal disease the children have," said Richard Westermeier, a retired Angola dentist. Asked why that is, he replied, "Well, they don't eat all the junk our kids eat." And although the country is known for its sugar cane, the children don't eat it, he said.
Westermeier has been going to the Dominican Republic with Jesse's Children, a medical mission ministry, for 14 years. Coming from the United States where, even with ever-increasing health care costs, citizens want everyone to be disease-free, it's a jolt to experience a place where only the wealthy minority can afford preventive medicine -- or any care at all.
The work of the Dominican Health Care Ministries, or what in our diocese, and in Southern Florida, is called Jesse's Children, makes an annual visit to the doctor possible. Flying in with several dentists, ophthalmologists, family practitioners and occasionally a podiatrist, Jesse's Children sets up camp in clinics in the city of Bani, in mountain villages and even a local prison to deliver health care to the indigent. During the last visit, members cared for 100 patients in three days.
"We don't have time to do all we would like to do," said Bill Maher, director and organizer of Jesse's Children, "but some care is better than none. Just the extraction of bad, decayed teeth helps avoid infections and further illness." Over the years of mission trips, Jesse's Children has flown in enough supplies and equipment to establish a complete lab in one of the clinics. But it doesn't stop there.
Working in conjunction with a convent of three nuns, two of whom have been on site for more than 30 years, the organization has built two clinics and erected several houses for local residents. The houses consist of one room with a concrete floor, block walls, two doors, two windows and a tin roof, which, according to officials, is premium real estate for many Dominicans.
The Western New York chapter of Jesse's Children is under the auspices of Church of the Holy Communion, Lakeview, where Maher's family attends church. Besides mission trips, the group ships desperately needed medical supplies to the country. Recently, it sent more than $20,000 of medical supplies and equipment.