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Dental Tribune International is happy to have Prof. Ihsane Ben Yahya, who was appointed president of FDI World Dental Federation (FDI) in September 2021, as the third candidate for its series spotlighting the achievements of remarkable women in the dental field. In this interview, Prof. Ben Yahya speaks about what it means to her to be the first FDI president originating from an African country and about her vision for FDI.
Prof. Ben Yahya, let’s start from the beginning. Why did you decide to go into dentistry?
It was my destiny! Few choices were offered during the 1980s in Morocco, and dentistry was a new field that was accessed only through competitive university entrance exams. I admit that I hoped with all my heart not to succeed because, like any young woman at the time, I wanted to continue my studies abroad. Today, I have no regrets. I am very fortunate to have had a visionary, forward-thinking and loving father who encouraged me to study dentistry. I lost my mother at a very young age, and my father dedicated his life to me and my siblings.
How and when did your journey at FDI start and what has your involvement been in the organisation so far?
As an FDI council member since 2013, I have had the honour of being appointed to participate in different task teams, such as the advocacy task team, the World Oral Health Day task team and the task team for congress organisation. I have also had the pleasure of working as a liaison advisor with the dental practice, scientific, educational and public health committees. In addition, as an expert, I was asked to collaborate on the drafting of a guide to oral cancer. This was translated into three languages and published for the national member associations. Finally, during those years, I had the opportunity to be coordinator of the strategy for Africa.
I really enjoyed working very closely with all committee members, FDI partners and staff and have been truly impressed by the commitment and energy of everyone involved in achieving FDI goals and leading the world towards optimal oral health.
How do you feel about being the new FDI president?
It is a great honour and privilege to have been named president of FDI and to have the opportunity to serve. It’s also a significant responsibility to represent FDI and its one million dentist members across the world, speaking on behalf of our organisation to international health-based organisations, such as the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Health Professions Alliance.
You are the first president from an African country. What does that mean to you?
I am honoured to be the first African to be entrusted with the position of FDI president. I will spare no effort to ensure that FDI keeps its visibility and voice and remains inclusive in order to reduce inequalities in oral health so that the most marginalised populations will not be left behind. Morocco’s flag has been raised outside its borders, and that is a source of great pride for me. I have always campaigned for ethical dental medicine that meets the needs of the Moroccan population and their rights at the national level. Today, Morocco has an international—even global—influence that means that the voice of oral health professionals in my country can be heard alongside our fellow FDI members globally.
You have started your new position in the midst of a global pandemic that is having a major impact on oral healthcare across the world. Do you have any special strategy to meet this great challenge?
Indeed, oral healthcare has been one of the most disrupted essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and WHO reported that 77% of countries had experienced partial or complete disruptions.
Dentists are seeing the impact of the lack of access to oral health services during lockdowns and are concerned that patients are still delaying regular check-ups and only booking an appointment once they are already in pain, have lost functionality or have infections that require complicated treatment.
FDI, together with its members, is learning from the COVID-19 response and is collecting evidence and best practices through its COVID-19 task team, so that health systems will be better prepared for future health emergencies and will be able to ensure uninterrupted access to dental care.
Maintaining good oral health is essential to securing a person’s general health, well-being and quality of life. Therefore, we must take every measure possible to safeguard the oral health of our communities.
What is your vision for FDI?
Firstly, I want to focus on a particular goal. Together with our members, I would like to reinforce the importance of oral health education, especially for younger generations. Our children should learn about their oral health and be sensitive to its impact on their quality of life as well as on their social acceptance and integration. We must work to reduce the number of missed school days owing to dental pain or infection and reinforce the importance of oral health education so that young people are well informed and able to advocate for their right to oral health.
Secondly, I want to help oral health practitioners around the world access education and training in order to establish and maintain their expertise.
While maintaining FDI’s identity, I would also like to consolidate the achievements of my predecessors and give oral health the level of recognition that it truly deserves.
Lastly, I hope to reinforce the values and ethics of equality and transparency in FDI’s work and in our relationships with our partners.