Monday, September 1, 2008

Physical Disabilities in Africa

During my visit to Faraja School, I asked Gunter Neidhardt, the director, what were the causes for the disabilities. His answer shocked me. A large number were preventable or easily treated. The causes can be broken down into the following categories: accidents, illnesses, lack of treatment and congenital.
In the first category are falls, burns and MVA's. In a recent meeting with a person who had done a study in a poor village in Tanzania, I was told that 9% of the households had a burn injury in the past year and the vast majority of these injuries were suffered by children and infants. Most motor vehicles for human transport in Africa are in poor repair, overloaded and driven at unsafe speeds.
Malaria, polio, measles, rickets, floridosis [excess floride in the drinking water] and malnutrition are the most common illnesses that causes disabilities.
Lack of early treatment for club foot and hydrocephalus go on to cause permanent disabilities.
Finally, the common congenital problems are spina bifida, cerebral palsy and genetic abnormalities.

When you go over this list, you see that simple prevention or treatment methods could eliminate or greatly reduce many of the causes. Fuel efficient, safe wood stoves made of brick or pottery are available. Here, in this part of Tanzania, they sell for $3 each. Vitamins taken by an expectant mother greatly reduces the incidence of spina bifida. Vaccination programs do not always get to all the rural areas and there are still widely held beliefs that vaccines do more harm than good.

80% of people with disabilities worldwide live in poor countries. Another issue is one of perceived causes. In a recent study in rural Zimbabwe 56% of the people believed in witchcraft and spirits and 33% thought that God was the cause of the disabilities.

Places like Faraja are doing outstanding work to help these children. The costs of their programs are going up very rapidly especially in the area of transportion of the children to Moshe for medical appointments, about a 1and 1/4 hr drive each way. In the last year, fuel prices have more that doubled. If you or any of your family or friends are interested in helping Faraja you can make a tax deductible contribution to Adventure Aid and ALL the money will be transferred to the school's donor fund.

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