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ADA leaders meet Afghan dental association president at FDI World Dental Congress


FDI networking: Dr. Robert Faiella, ADA president, right, and Dr. Charles Norman, president-elect, left,  welcome Dr. Farzana Nawabi and the Afghanistan Dental Association as the newest full member of the FDI.
Istanbul—Dr. Farzana Nawabi doesn't know what it means to quit.

After seven years, she not only completed dental school, but helped to establish a national dental association in Afghanistan and serve as its first president.

She attended her first FDI World Dental Congress in August in Istanbul. ADA President Robert Faiella and President-elect Charles Norman met with Dr. Nawabi during the meeting.

"It is a great pleasure to welcome our newest member of the FDI," said Dr. Faiella. "The FDI congress offers a prime opportunity to exchange ideas and information with member associations worldwide. I have great hope that the Afghanistan Dental Association will help to meet the great oral health needs and challenges of its country."

Six months into her dental schooling, Dr. Nawabi said Afghan women were banned from leaving home unescorted by a male. As a single woman, she lacked an escort to get to dental school. She had no choice but to stay home for five years and wait the day when she could finally fulfill her dream.

Dr. Nawabi now spends her days working at the government hospital where 18 dentists and 24 teachers provide dental care. Afghan residents can either seek free dental care through the government hospital, or pay out of pocket for services from a private practice. Dr. Nawabi worked for three years as a general dentist in a private practice. She said she found this especially challenging as a woman, since most local residents prefer to see a male dentist.

"There are many challenges in Afghanistan. In some states there are no dentists. There is only one dental school—in Kabul—so students study there and then stay in Kabul rather than returning to their home. I want to help change this," she said.

"Oral hygiene and education is the main problem," said Dr. Nawabi. "With only one dental school in all of Afghanistan, it's very competitive and prospective students must pass a rigorous medical exam."

As a student, she was a member of the Afghanistan student dental association and attended monthly lectures held by the Canadian Armed Forces Dental Corps. She worked with the dental corps and the Canadian Dental Association to help establish the Kabul Dental Association in 2009. In 2012, the organization expanded to become the Afghanistan Dental Association and Dr. Nawabi was named its inaugural president.

Today, there are 87 members. With nearly 1,000 dentists in Afghanistan, the small association has great expectations for growth. In addition, there are currently 90 students in the student dental association who are conducting oral health education programs at elementary schools and orphanages.

"There are many, many advantages to attending the FDI Congress, including sharing knowledge and meeting new people, including so many women, in the field," said Dr. Nawabi.

At home, Dr. Nawabi worries every day about her safety.

"Everyone is worried about what will happen. Security is very scary; it's really dangerous. Everyone will die one day, so why should I be afraid? I must do this," she said.

Dr. Nawabi regularly meets with the Canadian military to discuss oral health issues and her association's future. 

"A woman meeting with the military is not a common or welcome sight in Afghanistan," she said. "My hope—for me and my country—is to provide good oral health care."