Friends of BCH is developing and funding another ground-breaking initiative at BCH. Deb and Pam, UK physios who are Friends of BCH volunteers, visited Minsk to launch a paediatric physiotherapy pilot programme and to train BCH staff. They will be visiting BCH again at least twice in the coming months to monitor the programme, set new targets and continue to train staff at BCH and parents of children receiving therapy.
Alisia Skomorovskaya, a member of the PR team at BCH, has written about the visit.
Olga Avila heads the Early Intervention Centre in Polyclinic No 19, one of 7 such centres in Minsk. For 15 years it has been helping young patients aged 0-3 years old, whose physical development is delayed due to neurological problems. The treatment approach is to work through the normal stages of a child’s development.
‘We educate other practitioners and hold seminars,’ says Olga, ‘but in all cases, the main input to a child’s development must take place at home. That is why we encourage the parents to take an active role in their child’s programme.’
We were allowed to watch as Olga and her colleague worked with an 18 month old boy. He walks with assistance and can already say a few simple words, successes largely due to his visits to the Centre. He has difficulty sitting and standing so this treatment aims to help him develop his co-ordination and strength in these positions. This is done through play as therapy must be fun for the child. He likes the feel of raw buckwheat trickling through his fingers and is happy to demonstrate how a bear growls or how he can bang a drum.
Deb and Pam (pictured) said that they were familiar with the methods used at the Early Intervention Centre and that they sat easily with them. ‘It’s important to work with the child and not ‘on’ the child,’ they said.
Belarus has some way to go. In the UK, children with special needs have access to the skills of a multi-disciplinary team who work together to help a child reach his or her full potential. Integration at school and good lateral integration between services caring for children and families mean that their treatment is well co-ordinated.
‘It is not unusual to see a child with his or her own dedicated assistant at school,’ explains Pam. Whereas in Belarus, once a child is too old for the Early Intervention Centre it is down to the family to find inclusive nursery or infant groups and sadly there are not many of these. However, things are better than they used to be and we need to continue building on what we have achieved. It’s just that sometimes one wishes it was moving more quickly.
After visiting the Early Learning Centre at Polyclinic No 19 and the Minsk Oblast Children’s Clinical Hospital, Deb and Pam gave a presentation on physiotherapy in the UK to BCH staff at Forest Glade, BCH’s new palliative care building.
One of the major differences between approaches in Belarus and the UK is that in the UK there is no real division between curative and palliative physiotherapy. So even if it is considered a child cannot be ‘cured’, therapy will continue to support the child and family throughout. As Deb and Pam discovered, in Belarus there is no such speciality as ‘physiotherapy’ whereas in other European countries it has been available for years.
In post-Soviet countries the idea of physiotherapy is associated with concepts such as ‘electrostimulation’ and ‘magneto therapy’. In the UK, physiotherapy for children with neurological conditions is what it says it is, physical therapy using the hands of the specialist gently correcting position and helping the body to help itself. As Pam emphasised, ‘Above all, therapy should be fun!’ In children’s hospices in the UK, there is even a member of staff whose job it is to teach parents and carers at home how to play with and care for their special child. We are hoping that in a few years this will become part of what we do at BCH.