Guest post by Erwin Telemans, CEO of CCBRT and Abbey Kocan, Executive Director of Kupona Foundation
Today, on World Birth Defects Day, organizations across the globe are shining a light on a leading cause of disability: birth defects. March of Dimes reports that each year, almost 8 million babies are born with birth defects, starting their lives at a disadvantage.
In our roles as respectively, CEO of CCBRT, a leading provider of quality healthcare in Tanzania, and Executive Director of Kupona Foundation (CCBRT’s US-based sister organization), we have daily insight into the hardships facing people living with disabilities. CCBRT specializes in treating and preventing birth defects in its 230-bed hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where we treat thousands of patients living with clubfoot, cleft lip, cerebral palsy and congenital cataracts. Most of these disabilities developed, and could have been prevented, at birth.
We are also a father of three and mother of one. As parents, our wish is our children will have every opportunity for success in life. Every day, we see that wish granted as children receive life changing treatment in our hospital.
Birth defects can affect any part of the body, and increase in severity and frequency in low-income countries like Tanzania: these countries account for 94% of birth defects. Birth defects claim over 270,000 lives a year; infants who survive either live with the disability, or undergo expensive treatments most families can’t afford.
Prevention and early identification
Our work is changing the status quo in Tanzania through prevention and early identification of birth defects. We start by providing high quality healthcare for pregnant women.
Comprehensive emergency obstetric care is available in only 5% of Tanzania’s public hospitals. To better equip medical teams to provide high quality care for mothers and babies, we strengthen skills and resources in Dar es Salaam’s hospitals. Working with 22 health facilities, we train health workers in life saving emergency care, provide equipment, and strengthen existing infrastructure. By filling the gaps, we ensure that fewer births result in complications and disabilities.
Our team trains healthcare workers to recognize preventable defects at birth and raises awareness in the community via text message, radio and TV advertisements, educating parents on the availability and importance of early treatment for their children.
A wish granted: Mohammed’s story
Mohammed’s parents brought him to CCBRT three days after he was born with clubfoot. For four years, he came to CCBRT for regular casting, braces and surgery. Now a lively toddler, Mohammed shows no sign of clubfoot. He walks and plays like any other child. If his clubfoot had not been identified and treated early on, Mohammed’s future would be very different.
Take Action Challenge
Today, CCBRT and Kupona join the global voice raising awareness and advocating for those with birth defects. Our wish, as professionals and as parents, is that by tackling birth defects at the source, we won’t be treating children and adults for birth-related disabilities in the future. To learn more, visit our website, sign-up for our mailing list, and follow us on social media as we celebrate the 15th Anniversary of CCBRT’s Disability Hospital.
Lead photo of Mohammed receiving treatment. Photograph by Benjamin Eagle