Sreypich and her foster family greet us with smiles as we ride our motos into their front yard. Today our ABLE staff have come for a visit to see how Sreypich is going. Sreypich has epilepsy and over the last seven months, ABLE has been working with her foster family to ensure that she is getting the treatment and care she needs.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that is thought to affect up to 86 000 Cambodians. While there is not as much stigma related to epilepsy as in the past, when it was known as “crazy pig disease”, many Cambodians still do not understand its causes, effects or treatment. 56% of respondents to one study still thought it was contagious, but, encouragingly, 84% of respondents thought it was treatable with medication. However, around 66% of epilepsy sufferers receive no treatment in Cambodia, despite it being freely available. Part of the role of our ABLE staff is to assist the families in helping children like Sreypich get the treatment and support they need.
Support for children with Epilepsy
Sreypich’s foster mum, Tevy explains:
“We wanted to foster because my sister fosters a child with a disability through CIF, and we saw what a difference it makes to the child and to their family. But, we had no experience with epilepsy or how to look after a child like Sreypich. CIF provided training about epilepsy to us. They taught us how to protect her during a seizure and have trained us on how to give the medicines.”
Sreypich has one or two seizures a month, more if she has a fever. Her foster parents do what they can to keep her safe and comfortable during the seizures. Every two months, our ABLE staff accompany them to the hospital in Phnom Penh where they can receive a free assessment and her daily medication. Though the medication is free, the trip to Phnom Penh to collect it can be extremely expensive for many rural families. Providing transportation and assistance at appointments is one of the most important tasks that our ABLE staff do. Our staff act as liaisons, advocating for the family and helping them understand the medical terms.
Complicating factors not complicated love
Epilepsy can co-exist with a number of other conditions. There are currently five children with epilepsy in the ABLE program, and none of them have epilepsy alone. It is thought that 30% of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder also have epilepsy, as is the case for Sreypich.
“We are very concerned about Sreypich’s health. We are working hard to make sure she is getting the right nutrition and always sleeping under a mosquito net. We have seen such improvement in the seven months since she has lived with us. She can eat by herself with her fingers now. She recognises us and cries less. She can respond to instructions better,” Tevy shared.
While we chat to Tevy, the ABLE team are using flashcards to encourage Sreypich to learn key words and names. They are encouraged by her growing attention span and awareness of what is going on around her.
Our ABLE team meet with Sreypich and her family twice a week to continue to help the family learn how to care for her, to review her medications and to provide therapy to help her learn to respond well to stimulation. Our foster care team visit once a month to monitor the family and make sure that the foster placement is a good fit for everyone. Disability does not need to be a barrier to children growing up in loving families, where they belong.
Tevy finished our visit by saying, “We are more busy than before with all of Sreypich’s appointments and caring for her. It can be hard to socialise with others with a child with a disability, but we love Sreypich. We are so happy that she is part of our family.”