Preventing Disability Through Improved Mother and Child Health
This blog was written by Ant Duttine, Handicap International’s rehabilitation technical advisor, who is currently visiting our projects in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
“We are going to talk about the importance for women of giving birth at health facilities, or at least with a trained midwife,” says Umed, a Handicap International community-based rehabilitation worker. He’s speaking to a group of mothers and children in Handicap International’s rehabilitation center in the Khatlon region of Tajikistan. In Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia, many women do not have easy access to obstetric care and an estimated 15 percent of birthing mothers deliver their babies without any skilled birth attendant present. Umed unravels a large flip chart with pictures, and explains how giving birth with a trained health worker dramatically reduces the baby’s risk of trauma or loss of oxygen to the brain, complications which can lead to physical and intellectual disabilities.
This center is a community space to support children with disabilities and their parents. The children come to do exercises and games to maintain or improve their capacities. Their parents come to learn about disability and to offer support to each other. The peer support is particularly important when a parent first learns their child has a disability. “It is tough mentally,” says a Handicap International physiotherapist at the center. “Parents can get very low in mood and feel they are on their own.”
Every week, Umed gives a presentation linked to disability to this mothers' support group. Often the subjects are around understanding disability and improving awareness. The mothers are encouraged to share what they learn within their communities.
I’m here in Tajikistan to increase engagement with the health community, especially those working on mother and child health issues. We want to make sure that safe births are happening, but also ensure that health workers can identify disabilities that might occur in babies and that services are available to support those children and their parents. Both of these pieces are often missing in very poor areas. Without exception, the earlier a disability can be identified in a child and addressed with appropriate services, the better the chances that child has to fully participate in their society as an adult.
To address this challenge, Handicap International is hoping to expand its programs here so that more mothers and children can access the services they need. During my time in the country, members of the Handicap International Tajikistan team and I will meet with important stakeholders and visit hospitals and clinics to see if I can convince enough people to help us do so.