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Huma Sharief sits crosslegged on the floor, leaning against the blank wall of her condo

Carving out Space

By Katie Chalmers-Brooks

Dr. Huma Sharief, a UM-trained dentist working in Manitoba, hasn’t forgotten about underserved communities in her home country of Zimbabwe.

There, the oral care of more than 16 million people depends on a scant 400 dentists. In Manitoba, by comparison, more than 800 dentists serve a population of less than one million.

It’s a jaw-dropping discrepancy, Sharief acknowledges from her Winnipeg home. The University of Zimbabwe simply doesn’t have the capacity to graduate more than about a dozen dentists per year, she explains. And for working professionals in the African country, operating costs can be prohibitive with no local dental supply companies.

“It’s a very hard climate to do dentistry in,” says Sharief [DMD/14]. “I feel like I’m the conduit—and a bridge—between two incredible places, Canada and Zimbabwe.”

The alum returned to Zimbabwe several times during her UM schooling to help fill this gaping hole, providing free dental care to hundreds of children in Villages of Hope orphanages in Harare. Many of the kids had lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

Along with students, faculty and graduates of the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry, she also brought services to Kitwe, Zambia. “We did as much work as we could,” says Sharief.

She sees her career as something more than that.

“Dentistry has always been a divine calling for me. My mother—she’s my greatest influence—was constantly telling us that until your last breath, you are responsible for pushing the ball of humanity forward.”

Dr. Huma Sharief’s mother, Waseema, a physician, inspired her journey in dentistry // Photos by Katie Chalmers-Brooks

Dr. Huma Sharief’s mother, Waseema, a physician, inspired her journey in dentistry // Photos by Katie Chalmers-Brooks

Sharief recalls gifting young patients in Harare some commemorative pins of the Golden Boy atop the Legislative Building—a hot commodity when they mistook the Manitoba statue for basketball superstar Michael Jordan making a slam dunk. Seeing their healthy smiles warmed her heart.

“They are so excited and so grateful for us to come and work there. They’re very affectionate. There’s a lot of hugging, a lot of high-fiving,” she says. “I get so passionate about dentistry and this passion is shared by all of the faculty members. They all want to come down and do as much as they can.”

Point of View // DR. HUMA SHARIEF ON BIG CHANGES IN DENTISTRY AT UM

The alum says her outreach experience makes her especially appreciative of the commitment to improving facilities at her alma mater, and to growing the expertise of local oral-care professionals who go on to create positive change abroad and here in Manitoba.

A new multi-purpose building on the Bannatyne campus, projected to open in 2027, will help to transform how dentistry and dental hygiene students learn and care for patients, with two floors dedicated to the College. The 30,000 square-foot space will not only be home to the latest in digital technology, a simulation lab for undergrads, and graduate programs like orthodontics and oral surgery, but to what will be Manitoba’s largest dental clinic for patients in need.

Clinic patients are predominately seniors–half of whom don’t have dental coverage—as well as newcomers and inner-city families, who are also without adequate insurance. Several dentistry alumni have already made gifts supporting this massive upgrade, with a remaining $10 million still to be raised.

An architectural rendering shows the five-storey building to be built on the corner of McDermot Ave. and Tecumseh St.

An architectural rendering shows the five-storey building to be built on the corner of McDermot Ave. and Tecumseh St.

Sharief says she’s never surprised by the support within Manitoba’s dental community. She has frequent contributions of supplies, equipment and teaching tools offered to her for her travels back to Africa.

“There’s such a sense of collegiality. There’s such a sense of togetherness, a sense of collaboration,” she says. “I’ve never witnessed this anywhere in the world—I tell people this all the time.”

 

Dr. Huma Sharief completed a two-year fellowship in restorative dental implants that has since morphed into a graduate prosthodontics program—a first for UM—attracting students worldwide and focused on the rehabilitation of the mouth via denture implants, crowns and bridges, often for cancer patients.

In 2023, the influential annual list of Global Ranking of Academic Subjects, by ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, placed UM fourth in Canada in dentistry and oral sciences, and in the top 101-150 globally.

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