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Chilean Doctors Establish Intervention Program at Catholic Special Needs School in Kenya

Logo of Orione Community Training Centre for rehabilitation. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Many children who are brought to Orione Community Training Centre for rehabilitation come in when it is “a little bit too late”, professionals at the Catholic institution in Kenya’s Ngong Diocese have said, underscoring the need for early intervention programs among children living with disability.

According to the team of professionals who included doctors from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, intervention in children living with disability is most effective when applied early.

Dr. Magdalena Ruiz-Esquide from the Chile-based Catholic university who spoke to ACI Africa on the sidelines of the organization’s media event on Monday, November 29, said that while it is difficult to diagnose many forms of disability, there is always room for intervention while the child is still young.

“It is very difficult to diagnose a disability. In most early stages, parents and caregivers can only suspect that the disability is there but no one is ever sure enough. But interventions such as vaccination against certain forms of illnesses can significantly reduce chances of a child having a disability,” Dr. Ruiz-Esquide said.

Credit: ACI Africa

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She added, “In Chile, it was discovered that jaundice was causing cerebral palsy in many children. When the government started vaccinating children against jaundice, the cases of the illness dropped significantly. The vaccination against meningitis also reduced cerebral palsy in Chile. This is something that other governments can look into.”

Dr. Catalina Reyes, also from the Catholic University of Chile, said that during antenatal care, some forms of disabilities in children can be avoided by monitoring the health of the mother.

She said that some types of intellectual disabilities such as autism can be linked to illnesses such as congenital syphilis in the mother.

Credit: ACI Africa

Dr. Reyes added that younger children living with disability are more “malleable” and respond more efficiently to speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other forms of intervention.

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The two doctors have created an office at Don Orione Community Centre that focuses on early intervention in children living with disability to ensure that various forms of disability are detected early and addressed appropriately.

In the program, the two doctors have adopted a “holistic” and “multidisciplinary” approach to diagnosis in children by also journeying with the children’s parents, guardians, and caregivers.

“We talk with parents about the medical background of their children and their routines. It is important to look at their health from a wider view; what they are able to do and what they can’t do. We ask the parents to share their experiences with their children and we complement this by the physical examinations on the children,” Dr. Ruiz-Esquide says.

Her colleague, Dr. Reyes adds, describing the structure of the program, “We provide a multidisciplinary diagnosis; not just the mental condition but also the nutritional state. Are the children growing appropriately? Do they have the weight that they are supposed to weigh at their particular age? Do they have enough protein intake, and so on.”

“We also advise the parents how to handle the various challenges that may come their way when raising a child with disability,” Dr. Reyes says, and adds, “Parents usually have little understanding of the conditions of their children because doctors sometimes give them complex terminologies during diagnosis. Here, we try to simplify the terms.”

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“We also try to make the parents understand that whatever condition their children are suffering from is not their fault. Most of them feel guilty, thinking that a mistake they made might have resulted in the disability of their children,” the medic said.

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For about one and a half months now, Dr. Reyes and Dr. Ruiz-Esquide have examined 25 children in the company of their parents and intend to examine 45 more children at the centre. The team has created files for all children to monitor each child’s progress for their three-month stay in the program.

The Chilean medics are also training staff who will sustain the program once they leave for their native country at the end of the three months.

“We’ll be taking care of the most complicated part of the program in the three months we’ll be around. After we are done, we’ll leave behind well detailed files that the staff at the centre will use to follow up on the progress of the children. We are also designing a manual that other staff at the centre will use once we are gone,” Dr. Reyes told ACI Africa November 29.

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James Ayunga, an occupational therapist at the special needs school that is run by the Sons of Divine Providence, said that the program by the Chilean doctors was timely for the centre that he said is focusing on early intervention among children with disability.

“We started the centre with children of different ages and even adults and it wasn’t easy for the centre to mark their progress. Some of them came a little too late and there was only so much we could do in terms of intervention,” Mr. Ayunga said.

He added, “As we focus on early intervention of disabilities, we want to reach pregnant mothers and create awareness among them that intervention is best when applied early; that there is a lot that can be done to the brain of a small child. We want them to know that autism can be diagnosed in a child who is as young as a day old.”

The Kenyan Occupational Therapist said that the centre will be founded on children who are also as young as two years old, “those the centre can walk with in their journey of transformation years and chart a pattern of their progress; children whose story of transformation the centre can narrate from their younger age.”

Credit: ACI Africa

The November 29 engagement between staff at Orione Community Training Centre and the media was aimed at creating awareness among members of the press in Kenya on the importance of early intervention and stimulation among children living with disability.

The event was held ahead of the Friday, December 3 celebration of the International Day for Persons Living with Disabilities.

Richard Manyara, the Project Manager at the facility run by Orionine Fathers, a congregation founded by St. Luigi Orione, said that many parents do not seek intervention for their children living with disability.

“As a result of stereotypes, ignorance and lack of resources, many parents keep their children at home in the early years, which are the most important for therapy such that when they bring the children to the centre, it is always a bit too late and very difficult to intervene,” Mr. Manyara told ACI Africa November 29.