Cerebral palsy – a frequent result of birth asphyxia

by Waleed Fatth (GEI Global Programs Manager)
 
 
One of the joys of life is seeing babies taking their first step and hearing their first words. Parents always like to talk and brag about these moments and the majority take them for granted considering these first moments as a part of the normal development process of any newborn. Unfortunately, this is not always the case since the development process can be interrupted due to a combination of negative events and complications which might happen before, during or right after birth. One of these negative events is birth asphyxia (known as neonatal asphyxia as well).

Lack of oxygen (asphyxia) in newborns doesn’t just cause infant deaths, but it can also lead to severe organ damage in the survivors followed by a permanent physical injury or life-long disease. The severity of these damages depends on how many minutes the infant stayed without oxygen and which organs were affected. Brain damage is the greatest concern and in many cases is irreversible. Infants who survive birth asphyxia but with brain damage (due to so many minutes with no oxygen before having a proper medical intervention) can have mental issues, such as intellectual disability, or physical issues, such as cerebral palsy.

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Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common physical disability in childhood and 17 million people worldwide (majority from developing countries) are living with it. CP is a medical condition that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s physical and cognitive abilities. While there are a lot of known and unknown factors that might lead to CP, many studies and researchers have found that the interruption of brain development either during pregnancy or shortly after birth is one of the main reasons. People with this condition may have mobility, communication, eating and/or drinking issues due to abnormalities in body movement, muscle control and coordination. Visual, learning, hearing, speech, epilepsy and intellectual impairments may also be associated issues that would hinder the individuals’ performance and reduce their productivity.

For kids with CP, taking a first step or saying a first word is not easy. They would need a lot of treatments and support in order to improve their capabilities, because there’s no cure for this condition. Such interventions and care require a lot of resources which are often not readily available in most of the developing countries. Some international organizations are doing their best to support kids with CP, but like most others, their first wish is to reduce child morbidity with CP worldwide by minimizing the complications before, during and right after birth. This is only feasible through training healthcare providers worldwide by teaching them evidence-based techniques and medical regimes that are suitable for limited-resource areas. While Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) doesn’t deal directly with before birth complications, it is an essential technique to resuscitate an asphyxiated newborn that won’t just save the baby’s life, but it will also minimize the possibility of any long-term damages in the brain if it is applied in the first minute following birth. This fact emphasizes the importance of the first 60 seconds in a newborn’s life and the necessity to train more healthcare providers in order to not just save babies but also to have healthy newborns worldwide.