The health care sector of Guyana is currently managing 16 known cases of microcephaly.
This is according to Senior Psychologist within the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Balogun Osunbiyi.
Microcephaly is a condition where the head of a newborn baby is smaller than normal. It has been established that this condition can result from a number of reasons including genetic abnormalities or by drugs, alcohol use, certain viruses and toxins that are exposed to the foetus during pregnancy, that damage the developing brain tissue.
According to Dr. Osunbiyi, although the number of cases stands at 16, it wasn’t so long ago that there were 17.
“There were 17 cases but one died not so long ago,” said the Senior Psychologist, who revealed that all of the cases that are being managed are between the ages of one and two. These cases hail from Regions Four, Seven, Nine and 10.
Although microcephaly is not a new medical phenomenon it did become a concern to the local health sector a few years ago when Guyana was faced with an outbreak of the Zika virus, which is transmitted through the bites of the Aedes species of mosquito which is
prevalent in Guyana.
But there is currently a decrease in the number of patients affected by the Zika virus owing to the proactiveness of various Ministries and public health officials across the country, Dr. Osunbiyi said.
“Zika as it is doesn’t pose the same treat as it did a year ago when it first showed its head,” Dr. Osunbiyi said, even as he disclosed that there continues to be an earnest need for the health sector to give psychological support to families to help care for children with microcephaly.
He however disclosed that “One of the things about neuro-cognitive cases is that sometimes you don’t know of these cases at all in the public health system.” This is due to the fact that “…after a mother is discharged a baby can be locked away at home and maybe it is quite a while after, when the child becomes sick and has to visit a health facility, then you realise the child has a low developmental challenge.”
Dr. Osunbiyi said that children with such conditions are usually referred for further assistance by the Maternal and Child Health Department of the Ministry. Currently there are two psychologists, himself included, who are tasked with delivering psychological education to families with such a need.
“In terms of the ongoing interaction and intervention with these children who are one and two years old, they need to be provided with necessary support and mechanisms to deal with a developmental challenge that they did not invite,” said Dr. Osunbiyi.
Moreover, he disclosed that in addition to the patients and families with members affected with microcephaly, the Mental Health Unit is also tasked with reaching out to those with other forms of neuro-cognitive challenges such as cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
One of the primary aims, he said, is to prepare not only parents, but caregivers and loved ones, for the task at hand. Dealing with such conditions can be especially hard for families since, according to Dr. Osunbiyi, “you know you are bringing a child nine months and you have expectations of normalcy and you have this impact. It can, and usually does, affect close family members including siblings, because you have a child or a brother or sister who has a neuro-cognitive challenge, and therefore it is our responsibility as psychologists to offer services to best prepare those parents and loved ones, and to help us to treat with the child as much as we can.”
“There are certain methods, certain skills that we can teach them to help that child to be as normal as possible. Also, we want to help that child with their own self-esteem and self-confidence as they grow and begin to go to school…” said Dr. Osunbiyi.
But in addition to availing psychosocial support, Director for Disability Rehabilitation within the Public Health Ministry, Ms. Arian Mangar, said that the Ministry also offers physiotherapy to the young patients.
She disclosed that the level of therapy is dependent on which developmental stage the child is at.
“So if the child cannot hold up his or her head we will work on that. If they can’t sit we help them and once they are sitting, we will want to get them to interact or have them roll over…You want them to do everything that a child can do. But they usually need help to be able to do everything that a normal child can do,” said Mangar. She however asserted that since they all present differently “there is no one protocol for all; it depends on where they are in their developmental stage, and then we will work with them from that to get them to as close to normal as possible.”
According to Mangar, keen attention is also given to parents since “they will develop anxiety and depression, because it isn’t easy to deal with that…to have a child who is disabled, someone you have to, in a lot of cases, do everything for, every day for the rest of their lives. It is hard, so they need support too…. so we have to give it to them,” said Mangar.
Earlier this week the Ministry of Public Health through its Disability Rehabilitation programme launched a support group for families with children suffering from neuro-cognitive disabilities.
“The main goal is to help parents to cope. To listen and to show them that they have support from their physical therapists too,” said Mangar. The move to amplify services in this regard comes even as the Ministry prepares to observe World Physiotherapy Day today.
World Physiotherapy Day is being observed under the theme ‘Physical Therapy and Mental Health’ thus the collaboration between the two departments [Mental Health and Disability Rehabilitation] to help address the needs of patients.
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