A 27-year old woman, Ms Anita Elisha, is in bed since her first birthday, suffering from cerebral palsy, a permanent movement disorder that appears in early childhood and results in stiff or weak muscles and tremor.
She is need of specialised care and financial support. Ms Ivan is at her home village, Ntobeye, in Ngara District, Kagera Region. She is being taken care of by her aged father Ivan Elisha, a widower, who will soon turn 70 years old.
The old man is concerned about her daughter’s challenging health because he lacks the means to help her in her needs, including meeting medical expenses.
Ms Elisha’s parents started suspecting something wrong with the health of their daughter after she was six months old, as she was at the time incapable of sitting down on her own.
The only thing they could do was to take her to Murgwanza District Hospital, where doctors confirmed her health abnormality, but there was nothing they could do with her because the hospital lacked specialised doctors.
However, the father was surprised because Murgwanza District Hospital did not indicate the kind of disability his daughter had.
He wished they took her to a more advanced hospital as they had been advised by district hospital doctors, but due to financial limitations there was nothing they could do either. “We are poor as you can see the way we live.
The situation started worsening when I lost my wife in 1998. I cannot engage in any productive activity because i have nobody to help me take care of my daughter,” he said, adding that: “My daughter and I normally stay without food for a few days.
Some of our neighbours are tired of helping us because they have been doing so for a long time. We are all weak because of starvation, among other things, but I feel bad when my daughter signals for help or that she needs to eat something and I have nothing to give her.” Mr Elisha appeals to the government and all well-wishers for support as he still hopes her daughter can recover.
She also needs a wheel chair to facilitate her movements. Another problem is lack of electricity because the father does wake up at night to help his daughter and because she cannot speak, but uses sign language of which the father cannot see in the dark it is difficult to help her.
He is also unable to buy paraffin for his lamp to keep giving light the whole night. Since Ms Elisha stays in bed full time, some of her body parts, including her right leg and arm have started bending.
When somebody tries to straighten them, she screams in pain.
When reached for comment on how Ms Ivan can be medically helped, Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) Occupational Therapist Rosemary Kauzeni said that given the failure to detect her problem since her childhood, there was little hope for recovery.
However, basing on her long-term professional experience and what she saw from Ms Elisha’s photo, therapist what could first be done was to have proper meals and accommodation, recreation and physical exercises, especially frequent movements even if it was through a wheelchair.
“However, I cannot make a conclusive decision or give medical advice basing only on the photo shown to me. I need to physically meet her and see if there is a way she can be medically helped. This is how we professionally operate,” she explained.
She said it could be true that Ms Elisha had cerebral palsy-related problems – that is a condition in which body parts lack communication - which could be fully solved once detected in early childhood.
To avoid any health problems, including such of Ms Elisha, early child health assessment should be done after birth. After establishing the problem both occupational, physical and speech therapy should immediately start.
“Unfortunately, our hospitals lack early childhood health assessment equipment. We have also a shortage of specialists in health problems like this one.
I’m sure that it is only KCMC University that offers therapy studies and only at diploma level. This academic year we expect to have at least over 30 medical graduates although the number is still small compared to demand, but they will fill the gap to some extent,” she noted.
The occupational therapist urged investors in higher learning institutions to introduce therapy courses to curb the shortage of specialists, saying there were many people, who needed therapy.
However, due to little possibility of recovery to a person, who for a long time suffers from cerebral palsy, Ms Kauzeni appealed for the introduction of care programmes country-wide.
“It is really very difficult to reverse an adult’s bent body parts. It is because they have become stiff for a long time. Patients of this nature need only care services to make them survive longer and happily.
Ms Elisha could fall under this category,” she said. She further advised that the introduction of care programmes should not be left to the government only, but also individual people and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs).
The therapist commented that some NGOs had been formed just to benefit themselves. They showed as if they were interested in serving people, but in reality they were serving themselves.
“They just take photos of the victims of certain condition to show their sponsors abroad, pretending that they are accountable so that they may continue getting money for their own interests. This is unacceptable,” she said.
As a way forward with regard to a shortage of therapists, Ms Kauzeni said MNH last year introduced a rehabilitation clinic, where expectant mothers are taught how to detect any abnormalities to their newborns.
“To save newborns from any possible health problem, the rehabilitation clinic deals with problems mothers experience during pregnancy. It is because there is close relationship between the mother’s health problems and delivery health problems,” said the therapist.
“For instance, when a mother experiences abdominal pains, the foetus in the womb is also affected in some way. Hence, there is also a possibility of having health problematic newborns once the mother continues experiencing pains until delivery,” she said.
- •To help Ms Elisha, please, contact Mr Deogratias Francis, Secretary for Ngara District Disabled People’s Organisations Mobile phone: 0 756287109.