4 December 2012

Zambia: 'Physical Defects Are Best Reversed in Early Childhood'

MEDICAL research has shown that most physical disabilities in children could be corrected and effectively managed if found out in the early stages of the child's life.

Speaking in an interview with Times Health, general practitioner and cancer advocate Hazeley Pelham said there were a number of medical interventions that could be administered to children with various forms of disabilities in order to ensure they led normal lives.

Dr Pelham said some of the interventions available included speech therapy for children with difficulties in speaking, hearing aids for the audio impaired, corrective surgeries for limb or bone disabilities, as well as physiotherapy.

She advised society against stigma of children with disabilities, saying that the vice was one of the major factors hindering the access to early medical interventions.

"A lot of women with disabled children tend to hide or keep their children in seclusion, for a long time, thereby hindering them from accessing the much needed corrective measures to make their disabilities manageable," she said.

And speaking when she hosted a Christmas party for 100 children with disabilities and special needs at Lusaka's Cheshire Homes, volunteer and well-wisher Jo Pope, said the first four years of life are formative, which is largely responsible for neurons on the brain in the development and growth of a child.

"Effective stimulus and good nutrition during this period will give any child the best opportunity in mental and physical development. This is true for all children," she said.

Ms Pope said children born with physical or mental disabilities often did not have the same level of care and attention as an able child when in fact they not only needed extra and specialist attention.

"A deformed limb can be more easily operated on at a younger age where little can be done in later life. With very specific stimulus at 3 months onwards, a child with cerebral palsy can learn a surprising amount."

She said there is very little support available in Zambia for parents of children with disabilities, saying that there was need to overcome cultural stigma, shame and blame which has hindered children with disabilities from accessing medical and social support.

Ms Pope said there were a limited number of schools catering for the children with special needs, leaving the majority of children with disabilities un-schooled, without any specialist medical care and often shunned from society.

She called for the need for more open discussion through the media, and more financial support towards schools providing education for children with special needs.

Ms Pope said she had been organising annual Christmas parties for children with disabilities, with assistance from bands like Uncle Rex and Ras Wille who offered to entertain the children as part of their social responsibility and towards appreciating children with special needs.

Among the children at the party included 20 from Kabulonga Boys school, 40 from Cheshire Homes, and another 40 from the University Teaching Hospital school for children with disabilities.

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