In Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, there are close to 1,700 children with developmental disabilities, begins Dr Shruti More, the founder of Samphia Foundation.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown imposed by the government, these children, who were otherwise attending therapy sessions, found themselves in a tight spot. With each passing week of no intervention and therapy, families found that the children were lapsing into their pre-therapy routine.
On 3 December 2020, almost eight months after the lockdown was imposed, a Therapy on Wheels programme was launched by the Samphia Foundation in Himachal Pradesh, which makes it India’s first mobile van therapy unit. This came as a silver lining to all those who had suddenly found themselves in dire straits.
Therapy on Wheels is a mobile therapy clinic, which supports children with special needs.
Designed keeping in mind the needs of children with disabilities, the van has a ramp, and is fully equipped with all aids, such as exercise balls, therapy toys, and orthosis. Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy services are provided to children as young as 14 months. Since its launch in December 2020, more than 80 children and a few adults have benefitted from this initiative.
Dr Shruti says this idea was sown many years ago in her mind, but was accelerated after the pandemic. “There were several design inputs and iterations that we went through before we zeroed in on this particular style,” she says. The mobile van currently goes to Kullu, Manali, and Manikaran.
Dr Rekha Thakur, Physiotherapist at Therapy on Wheels, tells The Better India, “With parents not being able to bring their children to our centers for regular sessions, we were noticing that even those who had made tremendous progress were showing signs of regression.” It was the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited (IREDA) that came to their rescue, by sponsoring an air-conditioned mobile medical van.
Bringing healthcare to the child’s doorstep
Dr Rekha says, “The idea is to recreate a similar experience that children would have if they visited the centre for therapy. Besides regular therapy sessions, we are also engaged in creating awareness about special needs in children and have been educating local residents on the importance of early detection and intervention of disabilities.”
Even before the fear of COVID-19, parents had been worried about bringing their children to therapy, given that the immune system of many specially-abled children is weaker, says Dr Rekha. “Now, since we are going from house to house, the fear amongst parents has drastically reduced,” she says.
Reyansh (7), a resident of Manikaran valley, has been attending therapy sessions at the centre for over four years now. Reyansh has cerebral palsy, which has affected his physical abilities and speech. The Manikaran valley is located almost 60 kms away from the centre, and there have been instances when Reyansh’s parents were unable to bring him for the sessions. “Reyansh’s parents would often have to mount him on their back and walk through a jungle for almost over an hour, before they could get a bus to the centre,” says Dr Shruti.
Reyansh was earlier able to attend his sessions only once a month. But this mobile van has bridged that gap, and now he is able to access therapy sessions once every week. That, in turn, has brought about visible improvement in Reyansh’s abilities.
Dr Rekha says, “When we work with specially-abled children, every session matters, and missing a few sessions can be detrimental. These are long-term therapies that need to be constant.”
An eye for detail – Therapy on Wheels
Speaking about the design of the van, Dr Shruti says, “Every little detail was looked into. We needed to be able to get a treadmill onto the van and modifications for that needed to be made. The design of every cupboard was looked into, and several space saving options were chosen.” Therapists and architects got together to design this van.
The idea was to design things in a way that as little space as possible was occupied, and at the same time, upto three children could be in the van at one time. The van also has equipment and space for training sessions that have been planned for the future. “The idea of the van is to be able to reach every last mile and access as many children with special needs as possible,” Dr Shruti adds.
The sessions are conducted thrice a week and Dr Rekha says that on average, they work with six to seven children a day.
Each session lasts between 45 minutes and one hour, depending on the need of the child. There are four members associated with the Therapy on Wheels programme — Dr Rekha, who is the physiotherapist, along with one therapy assistant/nurse, a social worker, and a driver.
If you would like to make a monetary contribution and help this organisation reach many more specially-abled children, you can click here for more details.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)