SUNDAY 6 OCTOBER 2019
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Inclusive Child Development Program in Ghana

A national discussion about cerebral palsy is helping to deliver a brighter future for children in Ghana.

This project was a World Cerebral Palsy Day Merit Award winner in 2017.

Helping an entire country of people develop an understanding of cerebral palsy can’t be that hard, right? What, with all the technology we have available to us now, surely, it’s as simple as running a social media campaign?

While in some countries that might be true, it’s not as simple as that when you’re in a place like Ghana. Ghana has a population of approximately 27 million people spanning a variety of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, and geographic challenges.

One group has risen to the challenge and delivered fantastic outcomes with their Inclusive Child Development Program.

The Inclusive Child Development Program was built on the foundations of another project established by the Presbyterian Health Services together with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).  This first initiative was a training program called Getting to Know Cerebral Palsy.

A new partnership between the Presbyterian Health Services, LSHTM, the University of Ghana and CBM International was formed to measure the impact of the Getting to Know Cerebral Palsy training manual.

Where did they start?

After completing their research, the group leveraged their findings to host Ghana’s first ever national celebration of World Cerebral Palsy Day.

As 8 almost identical events were held across the country, the research findings were used to start a more robust discussion about cerebral palsy in Ghana.

The Minister for Gender and Social Protection, as the special guest of honour at the Accra event, attracted media attention for the cause while speaking of inclusiveness as a fundamental human right – a human right her ministry has committed to ensuring is upheld.

During this same speech, to the joy of organisers, the Minister also committed to enhancing the public’s awareness of cerebral palsy, correcting myths, and reducing stigma and discrimination.

These celebrations became the launch pad for a national discussion on cerebral palsy.

A series of 5 major stakeholder meetings then took place across Ghana, including representatives from:

  • the Ministry of Health
  • the Ministry of Education
  • Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations
  • Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital
  • Nsawam Rehabilitation Center
  • University of Ghana
  • a wide range of health training institutions
  • caregivers/mother of children with cerebral palsy, and
  • civil society organisations.

And together, this group of influential people made some very big resolutions:

  • Parliamentarians need to push government to make a budget for people with cerebral palsy
  • the National Health Insurance Authorities should consider cerebral palsy persons in their scheme so that patients with cerebral palsy can have free physiotherapy and medical care
  • cultures that frown on, and undermine the integrity of persons with cerebral palsy should be tackled through health education
  • health staff should be re-oriented on cerebral palsy for them to give special health education on cerebral palsy in the communities
  • a special foundation on cerebral palsy should be established in districts of Ghana so that victims of cerebral palsy can always be assisted
  • rehabilitation centers should be established in all districts, so that cerebral palsy cases and related conditions can be managed easily.

During this project, community radio also became a centerpiece for broadening the discussion about cerebral palsy in Ghana.

Seven community radio stations broadcast panel discussions featuring people who care for children with cerebral palsy. These people made intimate revelations of their experiences, and discussed how the research had empowered them to better care for their children.

What were the campaign results?

The project is ongoing and has also been a long time in the making.

But the results so far have been significant for Ghana. Aside from the above-mentioned stakeholder resolutions:

  • 16 community-based workers (8 technical people and 8 community health workers) were given greater knowledge of the community-based care of children with cerebral palsy
  • 64 families who were involved with the project recorded improvements in their knowledge and confidence on cerebral palsy and the support services available. These people played a key role in the public awareness process.
  • It is estimated that over 1.5 million people across Ghana listened to the community radio discussions. In some instances, people called in to thank the speakers for sharing their information. Other people called in to seek further information.
  • Approximately 45 communities across Ghana had their knowledge surrounding cerebral palsy improved
  • WhatsApp was used to share experiences across all 8 districts with 50 messages circulating in 5 days
  • Learnings from the public engagement activities was shared with the Community of Practice Working with children in the community with cerebral palsy. This group connects therapists, community workers, parents, doctors and academics who are working with children with cerebral palsy in low-income communities. Sharing this knowledge has prompted a wider discussion about approaches to advocacy and public engagement.
  • Advocacy material for future public engagement was generated.

What’s next?

This project is ongoing. The results have been fantastic but there is more work to do.

New parent support groups are being established nationally to help them make use of the Getting to Know Cerebral Palsy training manual.

A new awareness campaign is in train. It is designed to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with cerebral palsy. This campaign will include community durbars (leaders), community radio, print and electronic media.

It is also hoped that an existing media caucus on disability issues can be leveraged to better improve the public awareness drive.

Seven parent support groups from the original research exercise are continuing to meet and have identified new champion mothers who will continue training new mothers on caring for their children with cerebral palsy.