Though it has earned the title of the most common physical disability in childhood, Cerebral Palsy (CP) remains poorly understood. Its causes are difficult to pin down and there is no pre-birth test that can indicate its presence. Around 17 million people around the world have CP and around 40,000 in Sri Lanka. An estimated 12 to 15 children out of a 1000 will be diagnosed with the condition here in contrast to only six in the developing world. There may be many cases as yet undiagnosed. Now, a new campaign aimed at establishing a database of Sri Lankan victims of CP is being launched, which will allow us to ascertain the exact number of people affected by CP across the island.
Building the database will go hand in hand with raising awareness says Gopi Kitnasamy, Chartered Physiotherapist and Founder/Director of the Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation (CPLF), explaining that they hope to have the numbers broken down by district. CPLF is a non- profit organization set up to assist persons affected by CP as well as their family members. It is the first organization in Sri Lanka set up to provide educational and therapeutic services for children with CP and associated movement disorders.
The awareness week, which will stretch from May 28 to June 3, will be launched with a ceremony at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. "We are planning to organize various events throughout the country during the week and are expecting more than 1000 parents of CP children participating in our free assessment and awareness camps," says Mr. Kitnasamy, explaining that local health professionals along with experts from abroad will be conducting these camps.
CP, originally dubbed Little's disease, was first written about in the late 1800s by an English surgeon named William Little. He encountered a mysterious disorder that struck children in those first years of their lives, leaving them with stiff, spastic muscles in their legs and to a lesser degree in their arms. Unlike other diseases that have their roots in brain abnormalities, this is not a progressive disease, which means it doesn't get worse over time. It isn't contagious in any form, but leaves children with movement and postural problems. Associated problems included vision, hearing, and speech problems, and learning disabilities. The disorders usually appear before the age of three.
Today, Little's disease is known as spastic diplegia and is one of a group of disorders gathered under the umbrella term of CP. It is a broad category that encompasses a number of neurological disorders. Its name refers to the cerebral cortex which is the part of the brain that directs muscle movement, while palsy describes the loss or impairment of motor function. The chance of premature babies developing CP is closely related to the degree of prematurity. Babies most at risk of CP are those born preterm or with low birth weights.
Recent research points toward a genetic component as well, while other risk factors include: blood clotting problems (thrombophilia), an inability of the placenta to provide the developing foetus with oxygen and nutrients, RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between mother and baby, infection of the mother with German measles or other viral diseases in early pregnancy, bacterial infection of the mother, foetus or baby that directly or indirectly attacks the infant's central nervous system, prolonged loss of oxygen during the pregnancy or birthing process and stroke or severe jaundice shortly after birth.
Though the disease has no cure, management interventions can make life much easier for both patient and caregivers. However the symptoms present, it's worth noting that many children with CP display normal intelligence. A range of specialized treatments and therapies have been designed to help children become more active intellectually and physically and more independent. Currently, treatment options include medicines, braces, and physical, occupational and speech therapy.