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In Bhopal, therapies hit as centres for the disabled remain shut due to COVID

Therapist giving therapy to a autistic boy, in Bhopal on September 20, 2020.   | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

After years of speech therapy, 12-year-old Shubhana, an autistic child, was elated to hear herself utter simple sentences on her own for the first time — “Mummy, I want food; Can you please switch on the TV?; Shopkeeper uncle, please give me a biscuit packet.”

But a two-month disruption in therapy, caused by the COVID-19-induced lockdown, has regressed her speech dramatically. Only her mother can grasp the disjointed mumble now. And Ms. Shubhana, whose grandmother survived the 1984 gas tragedy here, no longer enjoys hanging out with neighbourhood friends: ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ and ‘Dhanno’, tethered goats she practised speech with and confided in.

“Therapy eluded her for two months. But it will take her at least six months to a year to return to the same level,” said Nousheen Khan, speech therapist, guiding her mother with breathing and oral motor exercises and sentence-repetition techniques, during a cyclic home visit after 10 days.

More restless

As centres for the disabled remain shut and the pandemic scare looms, continuing therapies for children born with disabilities whose parents or grandparents survived the tragedy and those affected by poisoned water bodies owing to reported unscientific disposal of chemical waste by the pesticide plant, have been hit. Autistic children are more restless and irritable now, while those with cerebral palsy have regained muscle tightness, say experts.

“Until normalcy returns and children can come to us, we can only make sure their condition doesn’t worsen, if not improve,” said Suryaprakash Singh, special educator with Chingari Trust, catering to 1,067 such children. Now, five teams of four therapists each, after two-month online therapy didn’t yield results, head out in vans to different parts of old Bhopal at 10.30 a.m., covering at least 30-35 children every day. But at the Trust, where every child received 45-minute of each session, three-four sessions are crammed in half-hour now.

Eager to cover as many children, therapists now guide parents and monitor progress. “But in the absence of teachers, their encouragement, she refuses to exercise. And I too sometimes get busy with domestic chores,” rued Ms. Shubhana’s mother Ruksana, astutely observing occupational therapist Khyati Rana imparting to her daughter ‘brain gym training,’: lifting knees waist-level while swinging alternate hands from overhead to touch them.

Watch | Therapies for disabled children hit due to COVID-19 in Bhopal

Lack of attention

Meanwhile, Anwar Jahan feels helpless for her nine-year-old son Mohammed Yasir, severely autistic, increasingly restless now. “When therapists guide them, it’s different,” said Ms. Jahan, struggling to bring back attention to her child after his grandmother passed away recently. “I left him alone, for three-four hours, when I visited my mother’s home recently to pay respects. That has impacted him.”

Having spastic cerebral palsy, seven-year-old Mubashira opens her mouth, eyes closed, as her legs are extended and folded from the knees, wrist rotated gently and torso pulled up with back support to make her sit upright. “The tightness in limbs has increased,” said physiotherapist Rishi Shukla.

Four children who couldn’t get therapy during four months of lockdown had died, although a clinical causation was yet to be established, said Rashida Bee of the Trust. “We approached both the Health department and the Bhopal administration for permission to reopen, but they denied it citing the pandemic,” said Ms. Bee. Offering therapies to the disabled was not categorised as an essential service, a State health official said.

“There is no order prohibiting them to reopen, they are allowed to,” said Bhopal Collector Avinash Lavania. “It is essentially a medical service.”

Congenital malformations

In November last year, survivors’ groups released an unpublished Indian Council of Medical Research study which found congenital malformations in the progeny of mothers who inhaled the methyl isocyanate gas leaked during the disaster at 9%, while in the unexposed group 1.3%. The study was reportedly shelved for reported methodological flaws.

Further, government and independent studies show communities affected by contaminated water containing organic pollutants and heavy metals had increased to 48 from 14 initially.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 2:31:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-bhopal-therapies-hit-as-centres-for-the-disabled-remain-shut-due-to-covid/article32656084.ece

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