As a young doctor, working in rural Bangladesh, Mohammed Muhit often encountered children and adults with disabilities. “I saw that they were always treated very differently,” he recalls. ‘People used to hide them and in rural areas there was a lot of stigma – they were treated differently from birth to death and I never accepted that,” he says.
These experiences during his early career compelled Dr. Muhit to start the Child Sight Foundation (CSF), which is now 15 years old. “It’s one of my proudest achievements,” he says. “We started from nothing with a shared office in one room, with two field staff, and from that we grew into 100 staff and thousands of volunteers working in different locations.”
CSF trains and uses its network of 25,000 volunteers to identify children with disabilities and help them access much-needed services. Originally the organisation focused on childhood blindness, but soon expanded to support children living with a range of disabilities, including Cerebral Palsy.
“We knew that there are more than 250,000 children with severe Cerebral Palsy who required rehabilitation, assistive devices and other services,” Dr. Muhit explains. To help address this challenge, in 2010, Dr. Muhit undertook a six-week Australia Awards Fellowship. This enabled him to work with like-minded researchers and experts at the University of Sydney to develop a ground-breaking tool. “We shared our experience and data, particularly on Cerebral Palsy, its prevalence and causes, and from there we designed a national register.”
The first of its kind in Bangladesh, the new register identifies children with Cerebral Palsy and will form a basis for further service development them, says Dr. Muhit. “We can share this information with other international and national non-government organisations as well as with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Health and Education in particular,” he says.
“…Our dream is to create a Bangladesh which is inclusive and which does not exclude children or adults who have disability,” he says.
Dr. Muhit hopes that through this work the delay in providing services to children with Cerebral Palsy will be gradually reduced. But, he also has a wider goal about inclusion.
“We do have a dream and our dream is to create a Bangladesh which is inclusive and which does not exclude children or adults who have disability,” he says. “Through that process, we will not only ensure the equal rights of disabled people, but as a society we will be better and brighter.”