News / Africa

Disabled S. African Children Struggle with Poor Health Care

Laura Grobicki (left) and Stephanie Benn give therapy to a patient with cerebral palsy at Zithulele Hospital in South Africa ( Photo D.Taylor)Laura Grobicki (left) and Stephanie Benn give therapy to a patient with cerebral palsy at Zithulele Hospital in South Africa ( Photo D.Taylor)
x
Laura Grobicki (left) and Stephanie Benn give therapy to a patient with cerebral palsy at Zithulele Hospital in South Africa ( Photo D.Taylor)
Laura Grobicki (left) and Stephanie Benn give therapy to a patient with cerebral palsy at Zithulele Hospital in South Africa ( Photo D.Taylor)
Darren Taylor

This is Part Two of a five-part series on Child Health in South Africa 
Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5


ZIDINDI, SOUTH AFRICA -- A few days after providing basic health advice to a young mother who’d just given birth, community health worker Ncedisa Paul received a frantic phone call from the infant’s grandmother.
 
It was time for the child to be immunized against polio. But none of the clinics in the Zidindi district in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province had the vaccine.

​“I thought the gogo (granny) was making a mistake so I picked them all up in my car and we went to the nearest clinic.... There we were told by the nurse that there’s only BCG (tuberculosis immunization), there’s no polio (vaccine),” Paul recalled. “I took them to three other clinics, but there as well there was no polio (vaccine). So I had to take the mother and her son back to their home, without immunization against polio. The child is not even immunized, not even now.”
 
Like many other children in isolated parts of South Africa, the baby boy remains in danger of contracting an infectious disease that could paralyze him.
 
Paul’s story offers further evidence of the generally poor state of public healthcare in South Africa. Regular shortages of even the most basic of medicines, and the absence of basic health services, remain common throughout the country.
 
Paul maintained, “It is children who are suffering most because of this situation. Can you imagine that thousands of our kids become disabled every year because of completely preventable illnesses?”
 
Dangerous delays
 
In Zidindi, among the rolling emerald green hills of the district and in the dusty village streets, it’s common to see young people hobbling around on homemade crutches, their legs twisted and lame.
 
A physiotherapist in the area, Laura Grobicki, said when people here are injured, they’re too poor to afford to pay for the transport that would allow them to immediately access healthcare.
 
Health facilities in the region are sparse, and most people walk hours on end to the nearest clinic or hospital.
 
“We have a lot of people who have a lot of conditions which cause them to have disabilities which you wouldn’t have in a better resourced setting, in a place where they could get care quickly,” Grobicki explained. “If they’ve broken their leg for example, they might wait three months in order to get surgery. So when they get surgery, the surgeons have to re-break their bone, and when it gets set, it doesn’t set properly. So they can’t bend and straighten their knee and they never get that range back. So they will always have a limp.”
 
Grobicki does her best to reach injured patients and to treat them before they’re permanently disabled. But she’s a rarity. Physiotherapists are in short supply in South Africa’s public health sphere. The government says it can’t afford their services and most are in private practice, where they earn higher salaries.
 
Cerebral palsy common
 
But of all the disabilities that Grobicki deals with, she said pediatric cerebral palsy is the most common.

There are many cases of pediatric cerebral palsy in Oliver Tambo District in South Africa (Photo:D.Taylor)There are many cases of pediatric cerebral palsy in Oliver Tambo District in South Africa (Photo:D.Taylor)
x
There are many cases of pediatric cerebral palsy in Oliver Tambo District in South Africa (Photo:D.Taylor)
There are many cases of pediatric cerebral palsy in Oliver Tambo District in South Africa (Photo:D.Taylor)
“Women go into labor late at night. They cannot afford to get a car here, or they can’t walk that distance over the hills, through the rivers, to get to the hospital,” she explained.
 
So the women give birth at home, sometimes with terrible consequences.
 
“When there are problems with a baby, there’s no medical help available and so their babies are brain damaged,” said Grobicki.
 
Zidindi also has a very high HIV-infection rate. Mothers often pass the virus on to their babies during birth. HIV attacks the babies’ brains and frequently results in cerebral palsy.
 
Grobicki’s colleague, occupational therapist Shannon Morgan, said, “We’ve got over a hundred kids with cerebral palsy that we need to see as regularly as possible and we can’t see them…all every month.”
 
She said this is immensely frustrating for both therapists and patients.
 
“Some mothers just give up on seeing us and they disappear with their sick children into the bush. They have no fixed addresses. You try and find patients and you can’t find them; it’s really difficult to follow them up,” said Morgan.
 
‘Bewitched’
 
To make matters worse, belief in the supernatural remains strong in some parts of the Eastern Cape, including Zidindi. Many local Xhosa people believe that children with cerebral palsy are bewitched, or cursed. As such, brain damaged youngsters are sometimes shunned and their relatives are ashamed of them.

In the face of immense challenges, the therapists of Zithulele Hospital manage to bring happiness to many disabled children’s lives (Photo:D.Taylor)In the face of immense challenges, the therapists of Zithulele Hospital manage to bring happiness to many disabled children’s lives (Photo:D.Taylor)
x
In the face of immense challenges, the therapists of Zithulele Hospital manage to bring happiness to many disabled children’s lives (Photo:D.Taylor)
In the face of immense challenges, the therapists of Zithulele Hospital manage to bring happiness to many disabled children’s lives (Photo:D.Taylor)
Parents often hide their cerebral palsied children away from the community, condemning them to a life basically spent in bed, with no rehabilitation, and consequently no meaningful interaction with other people and no ability to communicate, Morgan explained.
 
“Kids like this just decay; they die slow, painful deaths,” she added.
 
Morgan and Grobicki are focused on rescuing brain damaged children from fates like this. They teach mothers how to exercise their disabled children in various positions and how to play with them, to strengthen their muscles and to stimulate their minds.
 
Cerebral palsied children helped like this live much more rewarding and much longer lives, said Grobicki.
 
Wheelchairs fall apart
 
The therapists constantly appeal to the state for adequate wheelchairs for their disabled patients.
 
“We try to give the children nice wheelchairs that will prevent deformities in their backs that could lead to breathing or eating problems later. You get special wheelchairs that are built according to a child’s body, a posture wheelchair,” said Morgan.

Wheelchairs piled into a storage room near Zithulele Hospital … Therapist Shannon Morgan says the wheelchairs aren’t suitable for rough local terrain (Photo:D.Taylor)Wheelchairs piled into a storage room near Zithulele Hospital … Therapist Shannon Morgan says the wheelchairs aren’t suitable for rough local terrain (Photo:D.Taylor)
x
Wheelchairs piled into a storage room near Zithulele Hospital … Therapist Shannon Morgan says the wheelchairs aren’t suitable for rough local terrain (Photo:D.Taylor)
Wheelchairs piled into a storage room near Zithulele Hospital … Therapist Shannon Morgan says the wheelchairs aren’t suitable for rough local terrain (Photo:D.Taylor)
Such devices can also be custom-built to be much stronger and with better suspension, so that they can be used in the rough terrain of Zidindi, where there are few tarred roads.
 
But, added Morgan, the government provides only cheaper, standard wheelchairs to the hospitals in the area.
 
“Those chairs fall apart in a year, and then they’re useless to everyone. And anyway, I’ve tried to wheel one of those standard wheelchairs around on these hills; it’s crazy, it’s ridiculous. You fall out; you cannot do it on your own. And if we’re saying to disabled people, ‘I’m sorry; you can’t push yourself anywhere. You’ll need people to push you everywhere for the rest of your life,’ that’s even more disabling,” she said.
 
‘Amazing’ women
 
A doctor working in Zidindi, Taryn Gaunt, said for every person who labels disabled people cursed, there are many other amazing women in the area who sacrifice everything for their children and grandchildren.

Morgan says her patients inspire her (Photo: D.Taylor)Morgan says her patients inspire her (Photo: D.Taylor)
x
Morgan says her patients inspire her (Photo: D.Taylor)
Morgan says her patients inspire her (Photo: D.Taylor)
“They give up their lives for children with serious conditions like cerebral palsy. You tell them, ‘you need to do this, this and this.’ Now those things would be hard enough for any privileged person to do, but these poor women manage and endure,” said Gaunt.
 
As an example, she recalled a woman whose grandson is infected with HIV.
 
“She brings him to the hospital so faithfully. He’s been on ARVs (antiretroviral medicines) for 56 months and he’s getting better because she gives the treatment exactly right every day. She works everything out and takes her little syringe and makes sure he takes the right amount of medicine even though she’s not educated, but she does everything perfectly. There are so many people here like that,” said Gaunt.
 
Morgan said if it wasn’t for her patients, she would have left Zidindi a long time ago.

Stephanie Benn exercises a patient with cerebral palsy, as the child’s mother looks on (Photos:D.Taylor)Stephanie Benn exercises a patient with cerebral palsy, as the child’s mother looks on (Photos:D.Taylor)
x
Stephanie Benn exercises a patient with cerebral palsy, as the child’s mother looks on (Photos:D.Taylor)
Stephanie Benn exercises a patient with cerebral palsy, as the child’s mother looks on (Photos:D.Taylor)
“I was talking with this woman this morning. Her three year old daughter has cerebral palsy. I asked her, ‘What makes you happy about your child?’ And she replied, ‘I am happy because she’s alive.’ I can guarantee you the response in a more privileged area would have been much different,” she said. “Stuff like that just touches you. You’re like, ‘Life is so hard here already and now you have a child with cerebral palsy, but you’re just happy that she’s alive.’ Those are the kind of stories that keep you going.”
 
In many areas of South Africa, where children continue to suffer horrific disabilities and adequate care for them is rare, it’s the “human spirit of defiance, that refusal to surrender,” that’s the only buffer preventing death and preserving life, said Grobicki.

Listen to: report on children with disabilities in South Africa
Listen to: report on children with disabilities in South Africai
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More