Four-year-old Mohamed* is the first child with Cerebral Palsy that International Medical Corps worked with in the Libyan city of Sirte. With bright, intelligent eyes, Mohamed was always smiling and laughing. He came to a rehabilitation center supported by International Medical Corps carried by his doting father, but was unable to sit independently and had very little controlled movement in his arms and legs. His parents were doing all they could for him, traveling to the center regularly from his home, around an hour outside of the desert city. His physiotherapists would stretch his limbs out to try and prevent contractures, and he would sometimes be strapped to a table in the center to allow him to stand for short periods of time.
The training provided by International Medical Corps for Libyan physiotherapists focuses on moving away from solely treating an impairment and towards helping the patient to improve overall function – with Cerebral Palsy this is especially important. We worked with the physiotherapists at the center to identify what Mohamed was and wasn’t able to do, and to plan how we could realistically help him most. Finally, we realized that physiotherapy in isolation wasn’t going to be enough for Mohamed so we made arrangements with his family to visit him at home.
The family were shown how to stand Mohamed at home using a simple piece of wood and cloth, and how to stretch his limbs comfortably. We built a wedge from pillows so that Mohamed could use his hands to play freely and develop his neck strength. We also showed his family how to adapt a chair so he could sit with his hands free and start to feed himself. We even fixed his wheelchair that hadn’t worked properly for months. Mohamed’s smile and laughter only grew louder as he found he was able to grab his toys with both hands, and to mash the keys on my laptop when we placed it in front of him.
There is still a long way to go before we can make a lasting difference to the lives of children like Mohamed, and we are told by informed locals that there are many other children like him hidden away in their communities. International Medical Corps has plans for more specialized training with physiotherapists across Libya and will soon introduce outreach teams to identify and work with more children in their communities. There is currently very limited access to essential orthotics services – for fitting braces, casts and other supporting devices – we are working with our local partners to improve this. We are also working with social workers, families and groups of disabled people to make sure their voices are heard, and to begin to advocate for improved access to services such as inclusive education in Libya.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of patient under the age of 18