It was nine years ago. A family in Soentapsa village of Tsirangtoed was overjoyed when they were blessed with a baby boy. They celebrated the birth.

Their joy was short-lived. A year later, they found out that their son cannot walk.

The father, Lila Ram Siwakoti, said he took his son everywhere. He consulted health officials and local astrologers. But nothing helped, as his son was diagnosed with half body paralysis.

The boy could only crawl when he turned seven years.

However, the father, on the advice of physiotherapist and doctors, managed to make a pair of crutches in 2015. Health officials from Damphu hospital in Tsirang also helped the father to build a parallel bar along the path towards toilet and water tap to support him.

Lila Ram said the parallel bar and crutches helped. “My son has learnt to walk with its support. His feet became stronger and his health improved,” he said.

The son has now started going to school and he studies in class one. He walks about 20 minutes to the school every day with the help of crutches. “If we could get a pair of crutches from the hospital, he’ll walk to school more comfortably,” the father said.

This is not an isolated case.

In Barshong’s Chunikhang Maed village, there is another man who suffers from a similar disability. The 31-year-old man also suffers from half body paralysis by birth and until last year he relied on his parents to do everything, from feeding to taking him to the toilet.

But health officials of Damphu hospital and officials from the dzongkhag health sector intervened by volunteering to construct a disability-friendly toilet for him.

They also provided a wheelchair and constructed a path for him to ride his wheelchair to the toilet.

Sources say that there are many people living with disability in Tsirang, some minor and some with severe disability.

Tsirang dzongkhag officials say there are working towards screening and monitoring people living with a disability. It will be its priority in the 12th Plan.

The health officials say they will conduct a detailed study to find out the exact number of disability, types of disability and what kind of support is needed to help the person before the 12th Plan begins.

According to the health sector’s work plan, officials, along with a group of health workers including a medical doctor, ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist, eye specialist, dentist, health worker, physiotherapist and pharmacist will conduct a three month long ‘community health screening’ beginning from October this year.

Officials say their screening last year found out that there are 61 people living with disability in the dzongkhag.

The dzongkhag health officer, Tashi Dawa, said that this year’s major screening will take a closer look at these 61 people. “The patients will be examined in detail about their form of disability.”

He said that the screening will cover everyone between nine months to 40 years of age. “Then we’ll have a baseline of people living with a disability.”

He said that to set any targets, a baseline is a must. “Disability has been raised as an important area of concern during the recent dzongkhag tshogdu.”

It was learnt that the issue of disability was raised when the child disability study, aged between two to  nine years, in 2010 to 2011 found that Tsirang had the highest number of people living with disability at 33 percent (39 people), followed by 32 percent in Trashiyangtse and 31 percent each in Trashigang and Dagana.

Alarmed by the findings, the dzongkhag health sector initiated its own survey, wherein the physiotherapy technician from Damphu hospital spent at least two days in a gewog to study the situation.

Health officials claim that those needing immediate help were rendered help to build disability-friendly facilities like toilet, path, parallel bar to support and walk. “However, the follow-ups could not be comprehensive as one of the physiotherapy technicians was transferred,” an official said.

Health officials also say that to keep track of the disability people on a daily basis, for over a year disability-screening tools have also been included in the monthly child clinic visit where 10 questions are asked to the parents about child’s development and milestones.

Officials also claimed they introduced a disability screening from this year where two health officials, a physiotherapist and a health assistant from Damphu hospital were trained to screen children less than five years.

“They will train other health officials and replicate it to other health centres on primary signs of disability and how to access disability and defining disability,” officials said. “Children below five years will be screened when the child is brought to MCH (mother and child health) clinic.”

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang