Delhi government will start disability clinics in five hospitals to offer physical and brain stimulation for newborns and children with developmental delays and disabilities.
“In high-risk pregnancies that usually come to big hospitals, 20-30% births are pre-term and around half of them require some kind of intervention to ensure a better life,” said Dr Krishan Chugh, director of paediatrics at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon.
These interventions will include physiotherapy for physical stimulation and various activities for mental stimulation in pre-term babies with developmental disabilities and babies with birth asphyxia, a condition in which babies are deprived of oxygen after birth for long enough to cause physical and mental disability.
“In children with mental disability, we have to act fast because the brain development happens during the first year of the birth. If the child receives early intervention, their quality of life may improve. After the first year, the disabilities are unlikely to be reversed,” said Dr JP Kapoor, Delhi’s director of health services, who is also a pediatrician.
The clinics will screen and the attached hospitals will provide treatment for ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity), a condition which causes life-long vision impairment or blindness in premature infants. The condition is caused by abnormal growth of blood vessels on the retina, which then leak and scar the retina. The condition can be treated by using laser treatment to destroy these abnormal vessels, before the scarring starts.
The clinics will also screen children born with hearing disabilities and provide treatment in cases where cochlear implant might help. A cochlear implant is a medical device that can partially restore hearing ability in patients with inner ear defect. The device is surgically inserted into the inner ear and another paired device which is worn on the ear transmits outside sound to the earpiece inside.
“These are the kids who also never learn to speak because they cannot hear. For the cochlear implant to be effective, the surgery has to be performed before the age of five, the earlier the better, as the speech centre starts losing its function after that,” said Dr Kapoor.
“The children born at these hospitals – Lok Nayak, Guru Gobind Singh, Swami Dayanand and Ambedkar Nagar – will be screened after birth and treated at the clinics. But, we will encourage all our hospitals to screen children and refer them to these clinics,” said Dr Kapoor.
The government later plans to build a network that will allow anganwadis to refer children with disabilities to these clinics.
“These clinics will be very helpful in reducing dependency of children with disabilities on their parents or the society. However, the clinics would need to have qualified professionals from several disciplines and there are not too many of them,” said Dr Chugh.