Dr. Vibha Krishnamurthy
By: Varda Sharma
50 million children in India live with or are at risk of developmental disabilities while one in six families has a child with developmental disabilities. Children can be either born with a developmental disability or acquire it due to poverty related risk factors. Being born poor puts a child at risk for poor mental and physical development due to malnutrition, anaemia and the lack of a nurturing and stimulating environment in the early years. For children already born with disabilities, like Down syndrome or autism, poverty-related risk factors further magnify developmental delays. The statistics of the Rehabilitation Council of India states that the ratio of therapists to children with special needs is 1:600.
Dr. Vibha Krishnamurthy, a Developmental Paediatrician, trained at Children’s hospital, Boston was alarmed to see the lack of facilities for children with developmental disabilities in India. She founded ‘Ummeed’ (meaning Hope in Hindi), a not for profit in November 2001 with a vision to help children with disabilities or at high risk for disabilities, reach their maximum potential and be included in the society.
“In the first three years of life, the brain is exquisitely sensitive to stimulation and care. Teaching parents to stimulate their child’s brain through play and communication could dramatically change the lives of these young children. However, in order to reach out to children early, parents, teachers, doctors, community health workers and policy makers need training to identify children with developmental delays early and to provide them with appropriate services,” says Dr. Krishnamurthy.
The professionals at Ummeed work with children with a wide range of disabilities (autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, learning disabilities, global developmental delays, and so on).
Ummeed’s focus areas
Center of Excellence for Clinical Services: Through its clinic, the Ummeed team of professionals assess and provide therapies for children with a wide range of developmental disabilities. Ummeed also operates an Early Intervention Center (EIC), which is a parent-child program, where children with disabilities between the ages of 2-6 years learn to play, communicate and socialize in a preschool like setting, with the objective of getting them school-ready.
Training and Capacity Building: Ummeed extends its reach to the ‘at-risk’ and ‘undiagnosed’ children with disability in the community through training of others in a range of disciplines. Ummeed’s training programmes range from long-term multi contact engagements to brief skill building and sensitization programmes. Parents, professionals and children can participate in the trainings at Ummeed’s Training Centre or on site at their organization.
Research and Advocacy: The research activities focus on issues that are relevant to the Indian context and measure the impact of Ummeed’s work. Advocating for children with disability at an individual and policy level cuts across all of Ummeed’s work.
In the past 15 years, over 10,400 children and families have been provided family centred care over 62,000 sessions, ranging from pediatric assessments, occupational therapy, autism intervention therapy, speech therapy, counselling services and so on.
In 2016-17 alone, Ummeed trained over 1400 participants (community workers, professionals, teachers, parents) and conducted sensitization programs for several more. It is estimated that each trainee/ community worker increases Ummeed’s outreach by about 50 children in the first year itself. “Due to the ‘ripple effect’ on co-workers and parents, and the accretion to their case load through new births in the community or new additions to the school, this number increases every year,” says Dr. Krishnamurthy.
Ummeed has participated in a five-year four-country research project funded by the National Institutes of Health, USA and in partnership with Yale University and the University of Ankara, to develop and test a tool to monitor and support Early Childhood Development specifically for use in low- and middle-income countries. The first article of their research was published in Lancet Global Health in February this year.
Says Dr. Krishnamurthy, “The science behind child development is evolving rapidly. The professionals at Ummeed working with children with disabilities try to keep abreast with cutting edge interventions to ensure that children in India have the best possible outcome.”
Founder: Dr. Vibha Krishnamurthy