World Cerebral Palsy Day, celebrated every year on October 6th, not only raises awareness of the most common physical disability affecting children, but reminds us that we have a duty as a society to protect their human rights and help them live fulfilling lives, just like everyone else.
What cerebral palsy is (and is not) Cerebral palsy is a condition, NOT a disease, that affects the development of controlling muscles, movement and body posture. It is the result of damage to the parts of the brain that control movement. This permanent disability can range from a weakness in one hand, to almost a complete lack of voluntary movement. For most persons, the cause is unknown. This makes it difficult for children to achieve developmental milestones, such as rolling, sitting, standing, walking, using both hands, talking and feeding, among others. Some persons with cerebral palsy may experience seizures, changes in behaviors and sleeping. All these features contribute to limitations while engaging in age-appropriate activities.
A global snapshot of cerebral palsy
More than 17 million people globally are living with this permanent disability. Another 350 million family members and caregivers are closely connected to a child or adult with cerebral palsy. It is the most common physical disability in childhood. As a lifelong condition, children with cerebral palsy need long-term rehabilitation or multidisciplinary interventions to train and retrain lost functional skills, prevent secondary disabilities and participate in daily life activities. Rehabilitation and multidisciplinary interventions can thus improve the quality of life for children, their parents or caretakers, their families and communities. However, this process is hampered by limited resources and high costs required to meet the needs of these children and their families, usually in terms of transport fares, medical or rehabilitation costs, assistive devices and reviews while visiting the service providers as per agreed rehabilitation plans. Sadly, in many communities around the globe, social stigma leaves many persons with cerebral palsy uneducated and hidden away from the rest of the community.