Gonzaga Ssebulime is the Community Development Officer (CDO), Kassanda District Local Government. In his line of work, he interacts with the communities, and witnesses first-hand struggles people with disabilities go through.
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics Census Report (2016) indicated that 12.4% of the Uganda population lives with some form of disability implying that approximately 4.5 million Ugandans are persons with disability, and for this, Gonzaga believes the Safe Motherhood and Child Disability Program implemented by Mildmay Institute of Health Sciences (MIHS) was timely.
“The Safe Motherhood and Child Disability Program has done great work for families and children living with disability, and our health facilities workforce,” he says. “The training of health workers in identification and managing child defects at birth has been tremendous in saving many newborns from life-threatening conditions that would greatly have negatively impacted their lives. In Kassanda district, for the past year, 72 children have been identified and referred for management – this was never the case in the past.”
The 2019 Disability Report indicates that one billion people, or 15% of the world's population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.
Across the world, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation, and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because people with disabilities experience barriers in accessing services that many of us have long taken for granted, including health, education, employment, and transport as well as information. These difficulties are exacerbated in less advantaged communities.
Gonzaga prides in how the project has also moved to empower parents with children having disabilities to curve out sustainable incomes. “These children are born from poor families, many of whom cannot afford treatment fees,” he says. “The project, through formation of Family Support Groups (FSGs), has not only created a ‘family’ within the groups where these parents discuss their issues and how to better the lives of their children, but also trained them on life skills like book and soap making that has enabled them generate an income with money generated used to finance transport and treatment for their children and wellbeing.”
To Gonzaga, the Safe Motherhood and Child Disability Program should be granted more time to consolidate the gains of the past two years. “In Kassanda, the project has skilled our health workers, who even on transfer, take that skill wherever they go; helped in identification and treatment of children with disabilities, and also reduced stigma towards disability in our community,” he narrated. “Today, parents no longer hide their children in their house because they are born with a disability but are seeking support to better their lives, well knowing that being born with a disability does not mean one is not able, but means one has another special ability.
The Safe Motherhood and Child Disability Rehabilitation Project being supported by MIHS works with district officials who are the forefront of implementing government programs with an aim of having them fuse its objectives into their work to help break myths on child disability, and advocate for safe motherhood under the watch of a skilled birth attendant.