Each year the Paediatric Rehabilitation Department at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Qatar Rehabilitation Institute (QRI) cares for over 500 children with cerebral palsy(CP) and similar disorders. Up to 5,000 annual patient visits to rehab clinics are recorded each year.
Cerebral palsy is the leading cause of childhood physical disabilities, affecting muscle movement, co-ordination, and posture.
Treatment for the condition aims to increase mobility and promote physical and emotional development.
Dr Mahmoud Ibrahim Abeidah, head of Paediatric Rehabilitation at QRI said while the Covid-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of how healthcare is delivered, his team has worked to ensure patients continue to have access to the support they need.
“There is no cure for cerebral palsy. Every child with CP presents differently and has different needs. Early intervention and ongoing medical treatment, which can include therapy for movement, learning, speech, hearing, and social and emotional development, are essential to helping children with CP reach their full potential,” said Dr Abeidah.
“Individuals with CP often need ongoing care. Some require more monitoring than others, including frequent blood tests, imaging, clinical examinations, and review of their equipment.
"Management of these individuals created many challenges as public health measures put in place to contain and curb the spread of Covid-19 meant that many treatments and hands-on therapies were only available for the most critical of cases,” said Dr Abeidah.
He explains that while CP on its own is not considered a risk factor for Covid-19, individuals with neurological disorders such as CP often have co-morbidities, such as chronic lung disease, which is a known risk factor for more severe Covid-19 illness.
He said as Covid-19 began spreading and it became evident that service delivery would be affected, his team started adapting treatment programmes so that therapy services were not interrupted.
“Our multidisciplinary team worked with families to meet the individual needs of each patient. Throughout the pandemic, we were fortunate enough to be able to fully utilise our seven-bed inpatient unit to admit children with the most urgent or complex care needs. This allowed us to ensure these children had access to the medical care they needed.
"Our priority was to provide the right care, at the right time, and in the right location, and to support the families of our patients,” said Dr Abeidah.
He added that while telemedicine will never replace in-person care for patients with CP, the pandemic has demonstrated how valuable virtual services can be.
He said it has also provided his team with an opportunity to explore alternative methods of service delivery.
Dr Abeidah says virtual services provided by his team were instrumental in reassuring families and minimising deterioration and irreversible physical, functional, emotional, and behavioural damages that could have occurred due to the suspension of outpatient clinical services.