Each year, the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department at Qatar Rehabilitation Institute (QRI) under Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) cares for over 500 children with cerebral palsy and similar disorders, with up to 5,000 patient visiting the rehab clinics each year.

Cerebral palsy is the leading cause of childhood physical disabilities, affecting muscle movement, coordination, and posture. Treatment for the condition aims to increase mobility and promote physical and emotional development.

QRI Head of Pediatric Rehabilitation Dr Mahmoud Ibrahim Abeidah said that while the COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of how healthcare is delivered, his team has worked to ensure patients continue to have access to the support they need.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. Every child with CP presents differently and has different needs. Early intervention and ongoing medical treatment, which can include therapy for movement, learning, speech, hearing, and social and emotional development, are essential to helping children with CP reach their full potential.

Dr Abeidah said that individuals with CP often need ongoing care. Some require more monitoring than others, including frequent blood tests, imaging, clinical examinations, and review of their equipment.

Management of these individuals created many challenges as public health measures put in place to contain and curb the spread of COVID-19 meant that many treatments and hands-on therapies were only available for the most critical cases. Accessible and continuous care during the pandemic was, and continues to be, crucial to caring for children with CP and specifically to minimise the risk of complications such as hip dysplasia.

Dr Abeidah explained that while CP on its own is not considered a risk factor for COVID-19, individuals with neurological disorders such as CP often have comorbidities, such as chronic lung disease, which is a known risk factor for more severe COVID-19 illness.

He shared that as COVID-19 began spreading and it became evident that service delivery would be affected, his team started adapting treatment programmes so that therapy services were not interrupted. This involved determining which patients required urgent attention and intervention and which should be admitted as inpatients.

COVID-19 challenged us, in that we needed to ensure our patients continue to have access to the therapy interventions they require, while also ensuring their potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus was minimised.

He said that at HMC, they adopt a family-centred model of care where family and caregivers are involved in every decision made about their child’s treatment.

The multi-disciplinary team worked with families to meet the individual needs of each patient.  Throughout the pandemic, Dr Abeidah said they were fortunate enough to be able to fully utilise their seven-bed inpatient unit to admit children with the most urgent or complex care needs.  This allowed them to ensure that these children have access to the medical care they need.

Our priority was to provide the right care, at the right time, and in the right location, and to support the families of our patients. With the gradual lifting of restrictions, we have begun welcoming patients back into our day care clinics, but we will continue to provide some services virtually.

Dr Abeidah said that while telemedicine will never replace in-person care for patients with CP, the pandemic has demonstrated how valuable virtual services can be. It provided his team with an opportunity to explore alternative methods of service delivery. Virtual services provided by his team were instrumental in reassuring families and minimising deterioration and irreversible physical, functional, emotional, and behavioural damages that could have occurred due to the suspension of outpatient clinical services.

As we work towards the ‘new normal’, the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department at QRI will continue to provide a mix of in-person and virtual services, ensuring each patient can safely receive the care they need, said Dr Abeidah.

For more information about the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department of QRI, visit hamad.qa.