RSDM Boosts Mandela Fellow’s Dream of Expanding Oral Health Care Throughout Africa

Thobile Mushwana supplies African children with toothbrushes and oral health tips as part of his program.

In Africa, toothbrushing is not a priority for families struggling to survive, and dental care is often nonexistent, says Thobile Mushwana.

“They don’t see the importance and they don’t have the money to buy toothbrushes. I’ve met 8-year-olds who have never seen a toothbrush or brushed their teeth,’’ explains Mushwana, a South African citizen who came to Rutgers as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

Mushwana, who visited the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in July, founded the nonprofit Dental Marathon organization to make oral health care accessible to children throughout Africa, where any kind of health education is scarce, a situation that’s changed little since apartheid was abolished in 1994.

Since 2009, he and his team have used a network of schools and local organizations throughout Africa to reach more than 250,000 children annually, educating them on the importance of oral health and dispensing toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. So far, they have brought their program to 11 nations in Africa.

RSDM staff and faculty spent time with Mushawana throughout his fellowship, offering insight and advice on providing oral healthcare to underserved patients. “Participating in Thobile’s fellowship gave our school the opportunity to support diversity and the development of new talents at a global level,” said Dr. Herminio Perez, who coordinated Mushwana’s visit. “The leadership at RSDM played an important role in sharing experiences and tips to help him accomplish his goal of providing dental care to those in need in Africa.”

Sponsored at Rutgers by the university’s Leadership Institute of Civic Engagement, the Mandela Washington Fellowship program provides professional development training and high-level networking for aspiring African entrepreneurs. Read more about Mushwana’s plans, and his visit to RSDM, in this Rutgers Today story.