By Victor Ligaya, Nurturing Care Program Lead and Head of Therapy, The Action Foundation

An image of two occupational therapists gathering demographic and other health information from clients

Occupational therapists from The Action Foundation gathering demographic and other health information from caregivers of children with disabilities

The Action Foundation’s Nurturing Care (Tunza) Program supports the holistic health, growth, and development of children with disabilities (CWDs) in low-resource communities. Care interventions are crucial in improving child development and healthy growth for children. Unfortunately, caregivers experience a huge burden of meeting the diverse needs of their children and psychosocial challenges as limited social support structures are available. In the past, we have had CWDs who have contracted common diseases which had become severe due to not receiving treatment. Unfortunately, we have lost some children due to inaccessible health care services due to several factors, i.e., expensive treatment services and health facilities being far from CWDs’ homes. The most common types of disabilities we encounter include Cerebral palsy, rickets, Down syndrome, autism, hearing impairments, visual impairments, delayed milestones, club foot, muscular dystrophies, epilepsy, and physical disabilities.

To narrow the health and medical gaps in the communities we operate, The Action Foundation organizes free pediatric medical camps, which are lifesaving. The medical camps offer free consultations, diagnosis, and treatment. Caregivers are notified weeks before the function to enable them to set aside time to bring their child to receive the assessments, treatments, and referrals. This contributes significantly to caregiver awareness about good health-seeking behavior and services available to support the development of children with disabilities.

The camps aim to extend health services and bring them closer to their communities. They offer a platform for nurses, pediatricians, education assessment officers, and other health practitioners to give back to the community by putting their skills into practice. The camps also help community members and medical staff interact freely from the hospital setting.

An image of a man wearing a blue t-shirt written " Action Foundation" speaking on a microphone

Victor Ligaya, The Action Foundation Head of Therapy addressing caregivers during a medical camp

The medical camps we have conducted have given us a platform to educate caregivers and the public about some health issues. This can be information about a specific disease and the necessary precautions to take in case of an outbreak. In addition, the data we have gathered during the camps have contributed to supporting medical professionals and government officials in establishing which areas are prone to some diseases. For example, from the June 2022 medical camp, we found a high prevalence of rickets among children in Mathare Informal Settlement. This data helps advise community members on preventive measures and treatment of various diseases and disabilities.

During the camps, we have offered advisory services to caregivers on nutrition, primary healthcare, and hygiene. As a result, caregivers have more contact time with the professionals to gain some advice, and the health staff also learn about the realities of the lives of families of children with disabilities. In addition, bringing services closer to the families reduces the financial resources spent on travel to access health services.

Common diseases that have been treated include:- rickets, conjunctivitis, convulsive disorder, body rashes, common flu, diarrhea, soft tissue injuries, Fever, ringworms, pneumonia, gastric enteritis, atopic dermatitis, acute tonsillitis, oral candidiasis, rhinitis, nasal congestion and rickets.

The following are highlights of services offered

– Pediatric medical care helps doctors assess, diagnose and treat the common illness in children with disabilities and refer patients who need more specialized treatment to major hospitals.

– Nutritionists assess, diagnose and offer the appropriate intervention for children who have malnutrition, food allergies, and reactions, especially autistic children.

– Pharmacists issue prescribed medicines to the patients.

– Counseling psychologists offer mental health services to caregivers and children with disabilities to help improve their quality of life.

– An ophthalmologist assesses, diagnose, and offers the appropriate intervention to patients with eye problems.

– Dentists assess, diagnose, and offer the appropriate intervention to patients with dental problems. Oral health education is essential to CWDs since most of them cannot brush their teeth depending on the severity of their disability. Most of the CWDs are on long-term medication, which discolors their teeth.

– Education Assessment is done by Education Assessment Resource Centre (EARC). Education assessment aims to determine a child’s specific learning strengths and needs and whether or not a child is eligible for special education services. This ensures inclusive, equitable quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for children with disabilities.

– The National Council does Disability Assessment and Registration for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) offers disability assessment services and conducts registrations

An image of a doctor attending to a child with a disability

A doctor attending to a child with a disability

350 children have been reached in the various medical camps conducted in Kibera, Kawangware, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, and Mathare. Caregivers of the children with disabilities who have been served appreciate the different health services and medication provided and look forward to future medical camps.