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Robia, Tajikistan

I want to be a therapist…the kind that helps children

9-year old Robia walks into the living room where her mother is seated. She sits down on the couch and pulls out a stack of photos. “I have 4 or 5 really close friends,” she muses, pointing to a few of them in the photo, their arms slung around each other’s shoulders.

“In 2010, when Robia was 6 months old, she fell ill, with her legs paralysed. No one was able to identify her disease,“ recalls her mother Hosiyat. After a month in hospital, Robia was diagnosed with poliomyelitis (polio) infection which can lead to irreversible paralysis.

The next 3 years were tough. Robia was unable to move her legs, walk or stand on her own, and the hospitals in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, offered no solution. “We were sent to a rehabilitation centre but nothing much happened there. It was a depressing phase of our life,” says Hosiyat. The long commute to the hospital included changing public transport 4 times, a difficult task for a mother and tiny girl in a wheelchair.

In 2010, when Robia was 6 months old, she fell ill, with her legs paralysed. No one was able to identify her disease.

However, things improved notably in 2013. The Tajikistan Ministry of Health, with the support of the World Health Organization, set up a Disability and Rehabilitation Programme to develop national policy, systems and services for rehabilitation.

Over the past five years, the success of the programme led to the formation of a nationwide Tajikistan National Programme of Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (2017-2020). All services are free of charge to persons with disabilities. Since last year, more than 170 000 men, women and children have benefitted.

Programmes like this contribute towards building a health system that is accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities such as Robia. For the young girl, rehabilitation and assistive products mean an improved quality of life and brighter future prospects.

We were sent to a rehabilitation centre but nothing much happened there. It was a depressing phase of our life.

For the past five years, Robia has been attending the National Rehabilitation Centre for Children in Dushanbe. There she practices walking, strengthening her spine and legs and balance. She has also received orthoses, external devices to support her back and legs, which give her confidence to navigate the gravel and dirt roads on which she walks each day. Robia continues to go to the rehabilitation center twice a week and has made many friends there.

Today, Robia walks the few blocks to school with her neighbour and is doing well academically. Her grade book is covered with high marks from her teacher. In short, her day-to-day life is full of tasks and events that make up a usual day for a young Tajik girl.

In the living room, Robia stands up from the couch and goes over to her computer to show off her graphic design acumen. She holds herself upright in the chair, navigating the keyboard and mouse with both arms stretched in front of her.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, without hesitation she replies, “a therapist… the kind that helps children.” She doesn't see any reason why this won't be possible. Robia locks eyes with her mother, and they exchange smiles and nods of agreement.

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