14 October 2017

Zambia: Fresh Hope for Children With Disabilities

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
(file photo).

A new hydrotherapy center in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, is making an impact in the special needs field. Underprivileged children with disabilities now have renewed hope for better and free treatment.

What started as a parents search for their son's cerebral palsy treatment has resulted into establishing the first ever hydrotherapy center in Zambia. Their benefits are now trickling down to underprivileged children with similar disabilities.

Stephanie Park's son, Oliver, was born in 2016, eight weeks premature and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The parents were determined to do anything to get him the treatment he needed. But when they realized that they could not get the required therapy in Zambia, they sought after it from neighboring South Africa. As traveling to that country's capital, Johannesburg, became too frequent, the couple started thinking of relocating.

"We got to a point where we were going to move to Johannesburg, but we realized we didn't want to live there. Zambia is our home," Park said.

Change of course

After considering the cost of relocation, the Parks opted to invest that money into a facility that could cater for Oliver's treatment.

Park said in the process, they met another parent who was in a similar situation. They then partnered to establish the hydrotherapy center this past June.

Hydrotherapy is a form of treatment that is done in a heated pool of water, with some of its therapeutic properties being temperature and pressure that help stimulate blood circulation and treat symptoms of certain diseases, as well as sooth muscles. The buoyancy of the water further helps to increase the range of motion of affected joints.

According to Park, their initial plan was to only have hydrotherapy. But they decided to branch out to do multiple therapies, which would cater for their children's different needs. Therefore, they added a half-hour speech therapy, physiotherapy, play therapy and rebound therapy, among others.

Costs involved

Park explained that the center funds itself through paying patients and finds sponsorship for treatment of underprivileged children from corporate organizations. So far, six such children have been sponsored for one year. Park said she would like to secure funding for at least 30 children and ensure that that is renewed, yearly.

Each child requires 18,000 Zambian kwacha (about $1,800/€1,500) for a full year, which covers treatment once a week, a drive to and from home, a healthy food pack at the end of every month and other necessities. The money from paying patients covers staff salaries and other operational costs. The center also supports organizations that address other community disability issues.

"As much as we can, we sponsor local organizations like APTERS (Appropriate Paper Technology), so if we have a patient who needs a disability aid, we refer them to APTERS. We've commissioned them to do equipment for our physiotherapy department as well and the Lusaka Correctional Facility have handmade a lot of our physiotherapy equipment," Park noted.

Kenneth Habaalu is the director of APTERS. They make mobility aids, which include standing frames, chairs, wedges and walkers. Habaalu said apart from helping his organization to generate some income through commissioning them to make the equipment, the hydrotherapy center have partnered with his organization to identify children with disabilities in communities who need such equipment for free.

"We said we can work together and give free services to those vulnerable children, we are going to start with 20 children in one community," Habaalu said.

Positive results.

Park described the response the center is receiving as great.

One of the children receiving sponsorship has club foot and through the center's facilitation, recently underwent surgery. There is a potential for her to be able to stand on her feet, which she could not do before.

"The hydrotherapy pool itself, I think it's like three to four hours during the whole week where it's not booked. We usually have between 25 and 30 patients every week," Park said, adding that she is equally impressed with the improvement of her son Oliver.

Park confessed that in the past, she only used to be concerned with the wellbeing of her family, but Oliver's birth and diagnosis, changed her.

"It's a very soft spot for me, because my child is disabled and I can only imagine how difficult it is for those parents who can't afford therapy and they have no choice but to just sit at home with their disabled children."

In some communities in Zambia, children with disabilities often face marginalization, isolation, abuse and ridicule, among other stigmas. Some husbands even abandon their wives and families when a disabled child is born.

The introduction of the hydrotherapy center has not only created possibilities for the improvement of these children's conditions and quality of life, but is also enabling them and their parents to interact socially and feel more accepted.

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