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Ambode partners private sector on early childhood disability intervention

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OKEY ONYEANWEAKU

Special Adviser to the Governor on Social Development, Mrs. Joyce Onofowokan

Against the background of growing concern over the state of children in Lagos State with various physical and mental disabilities, the governor of the state, Akinwumni Ambode, has initiated a programme of child disability enumeration. The programme is designed to provide a comprehensive state wide data base on children with disabilities in the state and identify proper early intervention strategies.

In an exclusive interview with Business Hallmark (BH) newspaper, Special Adviser to the Governor on Social Development, Mrs. Joyce Onofowokan, explained that the state government was embarking on a comprehensive and intensive strategy to address festering issues of early intervention in managing childhood disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy, autism to Down syndrome. According to Onofowakan, ‘’a primary challenge with tackling childhood disabilities is late intervention. Parents typically stick to traditional self-help approaches, doctors tend to find solace in basic textbook prescriptions and ignore parental observations, while the rest of society simply couldn’t be bothered’’. She points out that the state governor has personally and deliberately instructed that the paradigm of child disability intervention be changed to make intervention faster and more targeted. ‘‘Last year in November we organized a conference where all stakeholders were brought together to discuss the various angles to the problems of children with disability and a major agreement was reached that the early intervention approach was the best and cheapest way of mitigating the problems’’.

The governor’s aide on social development insisted that the problem of children disabilities required a collective approach by several groups in society including the government, parents, medical practitioners, social workers and therapists and the media, she pointed out that, ‘the media in particular needs to be better acquainted with the different ailments along spectrums and report developments in a well-informed and constructive manner’, along this line the Lagos State government has proposed  the establishment of an academy designed to provide specialized knowledge and education for people who partner in activities related to children with special needs.

In addition to an academy the government of the state has engaged the private sector in active collaboration with a view to building the required infrastructure needed to provide more comprehensive assistance to both children suffering from disabilities and their parents. BH’s independent investigations reveal that a group of private donors may put up the first such facility in the state as part of its private-sector support for children with unique disabilities. Segun Joseph, a father of a daughter with disability and President of the Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities of Nigeria (AIDDN)notes that, ‘’as a society we must rise beyond narrow approaches to difficult but redeemable health challenges of children. We must be prepared to take bold and creative methods of resolving the issues of children that may have problems, but also have aspirations. My daughter, for example, won an Olympic medal for Nigeria at the last Paralympics. There is ability in disability and all that is required is the structure, the patience and the commitment to mine it’’ says Joseph.

With the Lagos State government determined to bring about improvement in child disability management in the state, Onofowokan insists that, ‘’this administration, under governor Ambode, will make Lagos the preferred hub for child disability management on the continent. I was brought in by the governor from the best disability management state in America, Massachusetts, and with the support of cabinet members of the state, we will make Lagos the Massachusetts of Africa’’.