There are over 20,000 disabled children who suffer from cerebral palsy (CP) in Ukraine, and their numbers are steadily increasing every year. According to data of the Ministry of Public Health, there were 1,247 cases of cerebral palsy in 2004 and 1,438 in 2005.
Cerebral palsy is a serious congenital disease of the nervous system, causing movement disorders in which a person’s muscles do not respond normally. This disease eventually leads to partial or complete immobility of one or more limbs. The causes of this disease are unknown, but the common perception is that it is caused by an acute shortage of oxygen in a child’s brain in utero. Another risk factor is the mother’s history of sexually transmitted diseases. According to obstetricians, about 70 percent of young mothers have some kind of sexually-transmitted illness.
“The all-Ukrainian charitable project Freedom of Movement, launched on Sept. 14 in Odesa, is aimed at drawing public and government attention to the need for adequate and timely rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy,” says Viktor Shafransky, representative of the French pharmaceutical firm Beaufour Ipsen International, one of the organizers of this charitable action. “Without timely and adequate treatment, this illness turns a child into a helpless invalid, but if CP is treated without delay, the child can become a full-fledged member of society.”
A free hotline has been set up as part of the project (8-800-500-0030), where parents of sick children can obtain professional advice from specialists about up-to-date rehabilitation for CP-affected children. Media people are now touring regional rehabilitation centers in Odesa, Ternopil, Donetsk, and Kyiv, delivering humanitarian aid to children being treated for CP. Meetings will also take place with local public health officials.
“During the Odesa stage of the project, two small boys, Illia, 2, and Serhiy, 5, received free assistance. These boys could not walk properly because of spasms in their arms and legs, but now that they have been given injections of these cutting-edge muscle-relaxants and special physiotherapy, Illia is now walking on his own without his mother’s help. Serhiy’s case is much more complicated. At the age of five he has finally learned how to learn to put weight on the sole of his entire foot,” says Veronika Mykhailenko, chief doctor of the Odesa Rehabilitation Center.
“The drugs are very expensive,” says Mykola Kostyk, a children’s neurologist, “so not all parents are able to pay 2,000 hryvnias for a vial. The amount of an effective dose depends on the child’s age and weight: the older the child is and depending on the complexity of the type of cerebral palsy, the greater the dose s/he needs. Children with CP from low-income families need governmental assistance to obtain effective treatment.”
The parents of CP patients in Odesa have sent another letter to the president, asking him to help fund the national CP treatment program. The program was drawn up and approved by the Ministry of Public Health last year, but no funds were allotted for it. European countries, where governments really care about their citizens, have a tried and true mechanism for providing free drugs to low-income families. Meanwhile, in Ukraine the state has been turning a blind eye to children with cerebral palsy for many years. But there is no shortage of populist phrases in the speeches of high-ranking officials.