One sponsorship model effective for paediatric oral health

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Do child sponsorship programmes really help cultivate better physical and oral health?

Employing a community-focused approach instead of individual-child sponsorship may provide better net results for humanitarian sponsorship programmes. (Image: Fab_1/Shutterstock)

CALAUAN, Philippines: Although international child sponsorship programmes are widely touted as offering critical global aid, particularly for children in developing areas, empirical research evaluating their effectiveness remains scant. According to a recent study, emphasis on rights-based methodologies to promote community-wide advancement yields significant paediatric health improvements, including in oral health.

Between eight and 12 million children are currently being sponsored around the world through 207 different organisations. Notable outcomes of the work of two organisations, World Vision and Compassion International, indicated considerable progress post-sponsorship, such as drastic reductions in the percentage of children who were underweight and increased access to safe water.

Team Philippines (TP) initiated a sponsorship scheme in 2013 for 30 children in Calauan in collaboration with the Sydney campus of the University of Notre Dame, and a corresponding study has evaluated the success of the sponsorship efforts. Because TP employs a rights-based approach, it collaborates with local institutions to provide healthcare, education and welfare. There had been no prior analysis of the programme’s paediatric health impact, and it was therefore retrospectively assessed in order to determine its efficacy and to identify possible areas for improvement. Initial findings revealed that sponsored children exhibited better health outcomes than their non-sponsored counterparts, especially in the area of dental health.

According to the results of the study, non-sponsored children suffered from considerable caries. Sponsored children had better dental health and received fewer medications, largely because many non-sponsored children underwent dental extractions, which necessitated post-procedure analgesia for pain relief.

Regarding prevention, a significant difference between the cohorts was the regular provision of prophylactic fluoride treatments and toothbrushing education to the sponsored children. Additionally, whereas the data on diet and oral hygiene was similar between the sponsored and non-sponsored groups, the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, prevalent in the Philippines, could explain the notable dental caries detected, particularly in the non-sponsored cohort.

As part of the rights-based approach, which focuses on aiding community development as opposed to individual-child sponsorship, the TP programme organised dental hygiene education sessions and distributed 300 toothbrushes per trip. It also provided fluoride treatments specifically for sponsored children, emphasising the importance of preventive dental care.

The findings from the study indicate that, given the observed disparities, prioritising preventive dental care and education programmes is essential. International literature suggests that preventing dental caries is both affordable and achievable. This starts at the individual level with good diet and oral hygiene practices and at the governmental level with initiatives like mass fluoridation programmes. The data also indicated that sponsorship through the TP programme had a pronounced positive effect on the dental health of children. Sponsored children benefited from direct interventions such as fluoride treatments and dental hygiene education and received fewer medications linked to dental issues.

The study, titled “Evaluating the impact of a child sponsorship programme on paediatric health and development in Calauan, Philippines: A retrospective audit”, was published online on 29 September 2023 in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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