First Pacific Island oral surgery specialist to return to Fiji
DUNEDIN, New Zealand: The goal of improving the oral health standards of people from the Pacific Islands has been given a boost with the recent graduation of the Fijian national Dr Oripa Waqa with a doctorate in clinical dentistry from the University of Otago. Waqa is the first female specialist in oral surgery not only in Fiji but also in the wider Pacific Islands.
Three years ago, Waqa was offered an opportunity to study at a New Zealand educational institution. She was one of a handful of students selected to take part in the New Zealand Scholarship programme, which offers citizens from developing countries the chance to study at a university of their choice either in New Zealand or at a Pacific university. It was a great cultural shock for the young student, but it was an opportunity she did not want to miss.
“I just love New Zealand. Working at the hospital and then the University you just have such good support,” said Waqa of her experience.
In a 2010 study, titled “Oral health in the Pacific Islands”, researchers showed the mean number of decayed and filled teeth of children aged 5–10 years from Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand in the southern Pacific Ocean, rose from approximately three in 1963 to five in 1999. According to the results of the study, an increase in sugar consumption was linked to the increase.
Today, some of the biggest issues around oral health facing the Pacific Islands are poverty, poor diet, geographical remoteness, and limited education and access to oral healthcare. As reported by the Fiji Sun in 2018, the Fiji Dental Association president Dr Vikash Singh noted that, if there is to be an improvement, “patients need to know the links between oral health and general health”.
Motivated to guide Pacific oral health in a new direction, Waqa will return to Fiji where she will begin working at Fiji National University. “Since I’ve learnt so much from here [New Zealand] I would like to go back home and share the knowledge and do my best to upgrade not only the skills, but the equipment and the instruments we work with,” said Waqa.