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More rehabilitation centres needed for paraplegics

P.V.V. Murthi
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‘Rehab Mela' held at Bagayam

Unwinding:Paraplegics at the Rehab Mela organised by the Dr.Mary Verghese Institute of Rehabilitation of the CMC in Vellore on Saturday.— Photo: D.Gopalakrishnan
Unwinding:Paraplegics at the Rehab Mela organised by the Dr.Mary Verghese Institute of Rehabilitation of the CMC in Vellore on Saturday.— Photo: D.Gopalakrishnan

“I will let you know where to get a bathing wheelchair. I have one. That will be very useful to you,” said a paraplegic on a wheelchair to another. This correspondent heard this conversation on the last day of the three-day annual ‘Rehab Mela' (a conference of paraplegics and tetraplegics), conducted by Dr. Mary Verghese Institute of Rehabilitation (also known as ‘Rehab') of the Christian Medical College at Bagayam here on Sunday.

The purpose of the ‘Rehab Mela,' which is to enable paraplegics (persons paralysed from waist downwards due to spinal cord injury) and tetraplegics (those paralysed from neck downwards), who were former patients of Rehab, to meet annually and exchange views on how they have been managing their problem all these years, on ways to tackle the continuing problems and interact with their doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists and get their counselling for better management of the challenges faced by them.

In addition, the mela hosts a cultural programme which enables the physically challenged to exhibit their talent in singing, dancing, etc. and also watch the performance by the staff of Rehab.

Nearly 200 paraplegics and tetraplegics, who attended the Rehab Mela from Vellore and nearby districts, enjoyed the cultural programme from their wheelchairs, while the inpatients of Rehab watched it from their beds in which they were taken to the venue on the second day on Saturday.

In between various events, one of the staff members of Rehab was seen asking the audience to stand up from their wheelchairs and sit down, by way of exercise, which only a few did.

On the first day of the mela, participants had a medical check-up at Rehab, while on the last day, the doctors and the staff got a feedback from participants on how they have been managing their daily life, and aspects like whether they have been following the advice given by doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, whether they had any problems with their wheelchairs.

Suranjan Bhattacharji, Director, CMC, and George Tharyon, professor and Head of the Department of PMR, said the objective of Rehab is not only to rehabilitate paraplegics and tetraplegics and make them stand them on their own legs, but also help them to play a useful role in the development of the community in which they live.

Ilango, social worker, Rehab, said the institute does not allow relatives to stay with patients, so that they learn to do their daily chores such as going to the toilet, bathing and eating.

One of the problems faced by paraplegics and tetraplegics in India was the inadequate infrastructure for their rehabilitation.

S. Vaidyanathan, Head-Product Management, Sundaram Mutual Fund, Chennai, himself a paraplegic, told The Hindu that on a conservative estimate, about 30,000 persons became paraplegics or tetraplegics every year in India, mostly due to injuries sustained in road accidents, whereas there were only five full-fledged rehabilitation centres with quality infrastructure.

“Of these 30,000 persons, only about 2,500 get good rehabilitation facilities.” At present, besides Rehab in Vellore, good rehabilitation facilities were available in India only in Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Aykudy in Tirunelveli district.

Mr. Vaidyanathan wanted the Central and State governments not to treat persons with spinal cord injury on a par with polio-affected persons or other physically challenged persons, but recognise them as persons with multiple physical challenges, which included problems in mobility, bladder management, bowel management, hand mobility and sexual impairment, and evolve suitable rehabilitation programmes.

“The setting up of a rehabilitation centre is not a cost-effective proposition at all. The only problem is non-availability of land. If the government can provide the required land (10,000 square feet), it is possible to set up a low-cost rehabilitation centre in every city or town,” he said.

Besides, ramps and physically challenged-friendly toilets have to be provided in all government buildings and offices, while ramps should be provided in all marriage halls, temples, churches and mosques. Even homes should have physically challenged-friendly toilets (with 30-inch or 32-inch-wide doors), so that old persons and paraplegics/tetraplegics on wheelchair can wheel themselves into the toilet and use it without any assistance, he said.

A silver lining in the clouds is the setting up of Spinal Care India, a non-governmental organisation run by and for paraplegics/tetraplegics, which conducts annual meetings in different parts of India to guide and educate the beneficiaries.

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