Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Empowering the Disabled from Childhood

While physical therapy is much more prevalent in the United States, it is often overlooked in developing countries where citizens with disabilities are often ignored and considered useless and not really worth anyone’s time. Kenya has overcome this stigma with the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya. The tricycles are merely one investment of this association which is a non-governmental organization working closel with the government’s Ministry of Health (more on this later). The chairman of the association is the vice president of Kenya and they have many government-employed staff.

The clinic consists of two different departments which are very small (the occupational therapy department which deals with training children on every day tasks and the physiotherapy department which trains the children on the basic essentials – strengthening their immune systems and such), each consisting of one room in one building which is also connected to the administrative office. Though small, this clinic makes a huge difference. They focus on children because they say that the younger you are treated, the more effective the therapy and the child can even grow up to have NO physical disabilities in their adult stage. The key is to catch the problem early on and get it fixed, but the fixing is a long and grueling process as well. The clinic is relatively cheap even for Kenya, about 50 shillings per visit depending on the problem. I met one 5 years and 2 weeks old boy named Jakes (yes, Jakes with an ‘s’) and his mother who let me photograph them during their rehabilitation session (he's the little boy to the left walking with the help of a green walker). Jakes has bowed legs and flat feet and cannot walk on his own. Over the past year, his mother says that his walking has improved tremendously. He can now walk with the assistance of a toy on wheels, or some sort of rolling companion.

The screams, cries, whimpering, and uncontrollable coughing echoes off the walls of the clinic. While waiting to speak with Grace, the head of one of the departments, tears came to my eyes as I observed disabled children all around me struggling to take a step or screaming at the pain of a therapist trying to straighten out their legs. There are many support devices designed to train specific muscles that will help the children stand or sit properly. Some children are oblivious and do not seem to care, others slouch down in distress, fully aware that they aren’t capable of changing the situation, and others scream with the discomfort of their bound limbs.

Polio is the leading cause of disability here, a disease that has been obliterated in the U.S. We have a vaccine against this disease so why are so many lives here in Kenya and in fact in many developing countries ruined because of it?

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