University of São Paulo: USP goes to Xingu to train professionals committed to indigenous health

Huka Katu (beautiful smile, in Tupi Guarani) is the name of a project by USP’s Ribeirão Preto Dental School (Forp) that takes students and teachers to indigenous villages, seeking to train professionals who understand the real health needs of these Brazilian communities . Now, a team is preparing for another expedition in the Xingu Indigenous Park, located in Mato Grosso, on the border with Pará, with two trips scheduled for this second semester. They will follow the necessary protocols in this pandemic period: the entire team is vaccinated against the new coronavirus and will carry out tests for covid-19 before the match.

For this first journey after the resumption of activities, the Forp team will feature former students who participated in previous editions of Huka Katu, indigenous health agents, a daily and multi-professional team from the Special Indigenous Sanitary District ( DSEI), contracted by the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and the district coordination.

Transport, food and lodging costs are subsidized by USP, through the Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Dean of Culture and University Extension, in addition to Forp itself, as explained by student Thales Peres Candido Moreira, a participant in the project. Huka Katu has a partnership with Unifesp in promoting indigenous health in the Xingu, and also receives support from the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (Sesai) of the Ministry of Health.

Since 2004, approximately 160 undergraduate and graduate students have gone through the project, working in the Dsei do Xingu and other regions, such as São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul, involved in care and management issues, above all, with understanding of the “intercultural question”. Huka Katu, as Professor Wilson Mestriner Junior, project coordinator, explains, involves the health of the indigenous population in a way that is committed to their culture and way of life.

The academic project Huka Katu worked as an internship until 2012. Now, transformed into optional subjects – Oral Health Care in Indigenous Populations I and II , it resumes activities to, in addition to training dentists, “structure a model of oral health care” , as highlighted by Mestriner Júnior, about the work they intend to carry out.


Caries treatment without “drills or turbines”
Before leaving for the Xingu villages, the students take the preparatory course, with theoretical content on anthropology, sociology, ethics, etiquette and interculturality. Only then do they travel with the purpose of developing “collective actions for the promotion, prevention and control of the main diseases”, says student Vitória da Fonseca Oliveira.

In the schedule, the group carries out health education activities, about diet, breastfeeding and oral hygiene, when they then do “supervised toothbrushing, application of a fluorinated mouthwash and fluor gel, and oral examination for epidemiological purposes”, continues student Vitória . As clinical procedures, the project performs fluorotherapy, sealant and Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART) – a restorative technique for teeth affected by caries, which uses only manual instruments, without the use of “drills or turbines”.


Larissa Dias Vilela, a dentist resident at Forp and a member of the team, said that Huka Katu offers “health promotion, recovery from injuries, rehabilitation, professional training”, contributing to the autonomy of the local population in “coping with the health-care process. disease in a positive way”. Everything is done, according to the dentist, with respect to the singularities of each ethnic group, following the planning of activities previously defined by those responsible for the Huka Katu together with DSEI professionals in Xingu.

Student expectations
Students believe in some challenges during the project, such as unpredictability, immersion in a different work environment, cultural and language differences, the clash of realities, the epidemiological profile and group work. But even so, academic Veridiana de Oliveira Mantovani believes in the positive contribution of each factor, “both for professional training and for personal life”.

An expectation shared by his colleague, student Marina Correia Cassiani, who believes in her participation in Huka Katu as “a milestone in the lives of students”. According to Marina, it is an opportunity to see oneself in the face of paradigm shifts that broaden the view towards diversity and humanization, situations that, for the student, go beyond technique and knowledge. “The project makes it possible for us to leave the environment we are used to in order to be the execution actors”, says Marina.


The resumption of Huka Katu encourages student Mariana Beduschi to want “the project to continue”. She believes that this is something they help to build, then, “that is meaningful both for the community and for the students”. This is the same expectation of Juliana Apolinário da Fonseca. “You know those things that we think we know how it is, but only understand when we live? So, I really believe that this experience provided by the project translates this issue very well”, says the academic, who is eager to work in the field at Xingu.

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