DMD student Hannah Yoo received a Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) research grant that took her to India over winter session to conduct research on the oral and nutritional health of women and children in the slums of Mumbai. She worked with an organization based at UC Berkeley called India Smiles, a community-based program that utilizes education and prevention to improve the oral health and nutrition of children ages 0-6 in the greater Mumbai and Tamil Nadu, areas of India.
Yoo participated in oral health camps and interviewed mothers about their knowledge of oral and nutritional health, socioeconomic status, and other protective factors. She also worked with children to conduct their oral health exams, apply fluoride varnish to their teeth, and provide them with free toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“Through this experience, I learned to practice cross-cultural compassionate care, learned about a broken health-care system, and gained an understanding of a complex yet beautiful country,” Yoo said.
Yoo was astounded by the disparities in India and the lack of access to nutritional foods and clean water. She observed a high incidence of tooth decay, or “caries,” in the children, including those who at the young age of 5 had over 10 caries and were significantly underweight.
“Overall, this experience dramatically changed the way I think about global health,” she said. “I used to believe global health consisted of a methodological approach to providing health services and education to underserved people. But this project showed me that ‘global health’ is much more complex and requires the commitment and involvement of the people who understand the barriers to healthcare best: the local community. I am immensely grateful for the support of the Harvard South Asia Institute and the winter session research grant for this eye-opening experience.”