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The Ministry of social justice and empowerment has identified 112 districts to provide comprehensive services
Nirmala George
With over 95 per cent of persons with disability in the country having no access to rehabilitation services of any kind, the government has chalked out a long overdue scheme to provide comprehensive rehabilitation services in over a hundred districts in the country.

For the nearly 50 million persons with disabilities, rehabilitation services are out of reach. It is only a tiny fraction of physically persons with disability living in the urban metropolises who have access to any kind of therapy or rehabilitation facilities.

Though the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, made the government responsible for providing comprehensive rehabilitation services to persons with disability, the record of coverage has been pathetic with only about 5 per cent of these persons having access to any kind of help.

For persons with disabilities living in the rural areas, any kind of physical handicap is seen as a curse, an affliction to be borne with not even elementary services to improve their quality of life.

In a bid to reach out to the disabled in the small towns and villages, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has identified 112 districts where comprehensive rehabilitation services will be made available.

So far the Ministry’s strategy was no hold ‘Health camps’ in rural areas for those with disabilities. The INR 20 odd lakhs that were spent on each of these camps would result in the distribution of calipers or crutches, or glasses, but it was a one–time affair. There was no follow up and the result was disabled children continued to use the same calipers, even when they had outgrowth them.

The new plan would be to locate the centers for rehabilitation services in existing structures, like a school, or a college or a guest house, and to involve all the trained manpower available in the district. “Funding for the Ministry’s existing budget, so I am not going to be spending money on putting up buildings, The scheme will utilize the existing infrastructure”, said Minister for Social justice and Empowerment, Maneka Gandhi.

There district centers would be manned by trained persons, usually the local doctor or primary health care personnel who have been trained to provide rehabilitation services, Each of the disability centers would be accessible to people living to six contiguous districts.

The scheme would coordinate the services that can be provided by doctors, non–governmental organizations, local functionaries of the department of Women and Child Health and Family Welfare and Panchayat representatives in order to make it as cost–effective as possible.

For mild disabilities, the treatment could be provided at the local center itself, while more complicated or advanced cases would be referred to the nearest place where such facilities are available.

“The idea is to have a permanent place where people with disabilities can get some help. Right now they have nothing”, said Gandhi.

The rehabilitation services would cover ailments affecting hearing, sight and limbs. Alimco, the state–owned artificial limb manufacturing unit has shed its lethargy, and has stepped up its capacity from 11 per cent to 93 per cent. Four more branches of Alimco are also on the anvil.

Right now the efforts of the Ministry are concentrated on getting these 112 centers running. “Depending on their success, we can think of expanding the network”, say Gandhi.

“What is more important is that these centers should run on their own and reach out to people who do not have access to any rehabilitation services whatsoever”, she adds.