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Wheelchairs, crutches: Ensuring quality life for people with disabilities

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RIDING ON—Precious Chihana is now Human Resources
Clerk at Rumphi District

By Clara Ngwira:

Cocks crow as if heralding this reporter’s arrival in their territory. And they are joined in this reception ceremony by barking dogs. By any account, this is friendly environment.

In the scorching November heat bearing down on Mchere Village, T/A Kapeni in Blantyre District, this ambience is somewhat therapeutic, more so as the shade under a Nsangu tree in the yard of the household offers another refreshing escape.

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As expected, the 5-year old girl, the subject of this visit, is noticeable. Beyond her disability, she has dark beautiful hair. She looks well fed. She is healthy.

Laureen Tembo suffers from cerebral palsy. According to the US’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control his or her muscles.

“The abnormal development of the brain or damage that leads to cerebral palsy can happen before birth, during birth, within a month after birth, or during the first years of a child’s life, while the brain is still developing,” it says.

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Laureen was born normal in 2016, according to her father, Patrick Tembo, a primary school teacher. But two years down the line, malaria attacked her, putting her in a coma for days in hospital.

“Upon recovery, we noticed change in her behaviour,” says the father. “She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t talk and though her eyes looked normal she couldn’t see anything.”

According to the World Health Organisation, very often people with disability do not receive the healthcare they need. The global health body says evidence shows that half of people with disability cannot afford healthcare.

It adds that people with disability are also more than twice as likely to find healthcare providers’ skills insufficient.

However, Laureen has received some good care thus far. First, she has her sight back, thanks to the physiotherapy provided by the Malawi Against Physical Disabilities (Map).

Map also gave her a wheel chair which has tremendously improved her sitting and mobility around the home. But she is yet to start eating on her own.

At home, the girl is enjoying considerable care too. She may have lost her mother in 2020, who left behind two other children, a boy and a girl. But the little girl is in the good hands of her grandmother who also keeps the other two siblings. The three children live with their grandmother –on her own request — while their father supports with upkeep.

To ensure good attention for the child, the grandmother, Margaret Ganet, has had to sacrifice a few things about her life. She can no longer do farming activities as she used to do because the girl needs constant watchful eye.

“I have even stopped participating in social activities and people know and understand my situation. I wish the mother survived to see her child grow,” she says.

Children with Laureen’s condition, or at least any form of disability, are scattered across the country; and Map is usually on call to assist.

Two of the beneficiaries of Map’s support are Precious Chihana and Mike Chihana –not related but both born in 1996. They are based in Rumphi.

Until Map came in with a wheel chair, Mike was unable to sit. He was always lying down, according to Map Regional Manager for the North, Bertha Ndhlozi.

For Precious, he is now Human Resources Clerk at Rumphi District Hospital. But the road to his success was not easy.

At the age of six, he had an illness that led to the lower part of his body getting disabled. It was a hopeless situation for him.

He encountered Ndhlozi, who assured him all would be well with him. He was enrolled for physiotherapy sessions at the district hospital.

Map provided him with a wheelchair which allowed his relations to push him to school. He was later given a tricycle which allows him to move about on his own.

Map kept observing him and encouraging him as he progressed through primary, secondary and tertiary education.

“I am now employed and independent. I support my parents with what I earn and can move on my own to watch soccer,” he says.

Precious recounts his childhood days as traumatic in his life.

“When I was bedridden as a child, it was painful to watch my friends play and leave me home alone as they chanted all the way to school or in the fields playing games like hide and seek. It was a painful experience,” he says.

For Ndhlozi, it is all joy to see Mike and Precious make progress and live a satisfying life.

“I am always delighted to see my patients recover. As Map we are here to make a difference, to help anyone with a condition that requires our attention,” she says.

Map operates an outreach programme using regionally-placed teams in Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Rumphi.

It also operates the famous Kachere Rehabilitation Centre in Blantyre where it offers free intensive medical rehabilitation services to clients.

These services are complemented with provision of assistive devices which are either manufactured by Map itself using their workshops at Kanjedza in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Rumphi or received as donations.

Sometimes, the organisation receives a substantial amount of donations of the devices such that it struggles with storage space. That is how Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) came in recently with a donation of a 40ft long container worth over K4 million.

Map Board Chairperson, Thom Mwamadi, says the container comes just at the time the organisation has received another donation of 400 wheelchairs from the USA.

Macra has also aided the organisation’s outreach programme which targets far-flung locations with a vehicle to ease transport challenges.

Mwamadi says they need vehicles to take them through rough terrains they encounter in their outreach initiative and transport assistive devices for distribution to clients.

“This means all the regional centres need to have at least one vehicle to cover all the districts that are in their catchment areas,” says Mwamadi.

Macra Board Director, Alekeni Menyani, says supporting Map is a responsibility that the corporate world should seriously take into consideration.

“Disability is not specific to a particular type of people. It can happen to anyone and to any age group as long as we are human beings,” he says, adding that organisations such as Map need support in their mission of providing free services to people with disabilities in Malawi.

Map has an orthopedic workshop with trained technicians who produce and repair appliances such as tricycles, wheelchairs, calipers, metal/wooden axillary crutches, wood sticks, sandals, clogs and neuro-development aids.

Established in 1979, Map considers outreach clinics as the heartbeat of its operations because during these clinics, the organisation provides physiotherapy services and hands out appropriate devices for various disabilities.

But this nerve centre often suffers from funding woes, hence a screaming message on Map’s website reading: ‘Map outreach services have completely stopped. Get involved by helping people with physical disabilities in Malawi: Buy a wheelchair, Donate materials, Donate a vehicle.’

Because every time its outreach clinics fail, somewhere a child with cerebral palsy is stuck to a miserable life lying on a mat while another disabled child is failing to go to school because he can only crawl.

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