With the Global Rainbow Foundation in Rodrigues

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

A team of the Global Rainbow Foundation (GRF) led by its founder Armoogum Parsooramen travelled to Rodrigues on Thursday November 14 until Sunday 17. I met up with them on Saturday late afternoon at the Rodrigues College in Port Mathurin, which had been put at their disposal for consultations. They saw nearly a hundred patients with various ailments who were in need of advice and treatment by the doctors in the team, as well as by the enthusiastic physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychologists. Others were seen for eye problems by the volunteer optometrist, yet others had their artificial limbs attended to by the technician who had brought his equipment to cater to their problems. There were also home visits carried out by the team.

I had requested the young ‘generalist’ doctors of the team to select the cases with orthopaedic problems, so that I could see them separately. This I did on Sunday morning at the seat of the GRF in La Ferme. Arrangements and announcements were made by Murielle, the Manager of GRF in Rodrigues, a tall, elegant and very pleasant young lady who was a former Miss Rodrigues-Mauritius holding a degree from the University of Mauritius. Despite the limited space available, she managed to accommodate it for the two ‘generalist’ colleagues, the optometrist and myself to examine and dispense treatment to the patients, made possible by generous donor support for medicines and other supplies.

The technician was also able to attend to some cases. It is noteworthy that he is himself a below-knee amputee who has been fitted with an artificial leg courtesy GRF, and is therefore the ideal person for the job – besides the opportunity to be employed and providing a service where his skills are both needed and appreciated. This reminded me of the victims of the polio epidemic that hit the island towards the end of World War II, and which left many of them with deformities of their lower limbs, which were weakened and required special appliances known as calipers to enable them to walk. Some of them still needed walking sticks or crutches as well. They found employment in the Orthopaedic Workshop which was situated in the old prison at Maillard Street in Port Louis.

Interestingly, the orthopaedic surgeon who was delegated to Mauritius to care for the polio cases after the war, following a recommendation in a report commissioned by the Colonial Secretary to set up a hospital for the purpose (the ‘L’Hôpital Mangalkan’ at Floreal ), was John Fitton. He was posted at that time at the Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire (a few miles south of Leeds), where I myself received my training from 1976-1980.

But the story gets even better: call it coincidence, conjunction by the stars or whatever! It so happens that a Mauritian, Nirmal Tulwa from Beau-Bassin, is a Consultant Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Pinderfields Hospital. On Tuesday November 12, availing of his trip back home, the University of Mauritius invited him to give a talk as part of the Continuing Professional Development programme for medical and health professionals. And the topic of his talk was children suffering from handicaps caused by neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, whose surgical treatment is a special area of interest to him. We know each other, and I attended his talk.

After his presentation I met with him, and I told him about my association with GRF on behalf of which I had earlier carried out consultations on children suffering from these disabilities. I enquired whether he would be willing to share his expertise in respect of these children, and his spontaneous reply was yes, of course. So I told him about my forthcoming visit to Rodrigues where I would be meeting with Mr Parsooramen and would inform him about our conversation. This I did as soon as I got the opportunity, and Mr Parsooramen promptly contacted him via Linked-In!

And so it is that as soon as possible next year I will be reviewing these children and select cases to be examined by our compatriot orthopaedic surgeon from Pinderfields Hospital, where the first orthopaedic surgeon to take care of handicapped patients in Mauritius had come from. As the saying goes, the wheel has turned full circle, and we are now eagerly looking forward to the visit of Dr Tulwa who will undoubtedly bring an immense contribution to the care of these children. Unfortunately, there is a gap in the local management of these cases, and hopefully with the help of Dr Tulwa it may be possible to work out more robust plans of care and treatment for them.

There were also two French ladies belonging to the ‘Step-by-Step’ NGO of France which looks after children suffering from a congenital deformity of the foot known as club foot, pied bot in French. They accompanied the team during the home visits and were able to pick up a few cases, which they treat by the Ponsetti method, named after the American surgeon who developed the technique that combines serial manipulations of the deformed feet and the use of casts and splints with minimum surgical intervention. Incidentally, John Fitton is also known for his design of the Fitton Splint for treatment of club foot.

The home visits were ably overseen by Allan from Le Hochet, also a volunteer who at 69 has wide experience of social networking in communities. We had the opportunity to have a fruitful exchange on the flight back as we were seated next to each other – it turns out we both had a Boy Scout background, and shared values of our common ‘Mauritianism’ for which no formal definition is required – nor could one capture all its rich, enabling and empathetic dimensions which I firmly believe are unique.

What puzzled me was the fact that these five cases of club feet were detected during home visits. I did not have time to have a fuller discussion with the ladies from the NGO, but as they are based in Mauritius I plan to catch up with them to fish out some information. For example, were these children ever taken to hospital, what were their ages, was there some reticence on the part of the parents to seek medical advice for fear of stigma (as is often the case with prominent bodily deformities), was it sheer ignorance or neglect? They told me that they had been dealing with cases in Mauritius too.

It would be interesting to know whether the local cases and those from Rodrigues share a common background. In our universal health care system which is free at the point of service whether health centres or hospitals, and an equally accessible private sector, why these children are missed out needs an explanation, and the more so as club foot is a condition which is eminently treatable in the orthopaedic departments to be found in all our regional hospitals, and there are visiting orthopaedic specialists in Rodrigues who are present throughout the year.

As I had done on previous visits to the island, I couldn’t help observing that all the roads were of excellent quality, putting to shame those of Curepipe where I live and which have been continuously and visibly deteriorating, a real pity for a town once looked up to as a ville-lumière. I pray and hope that now that general elections are behind us and we have a strong and stable government that looks set to be in the saddle for many years to come, the poor Curepipian roads will find a saviour…

Meanwhile, our work of contributing our bit to the welfare of our citizens continues.

* Published in print edition on 22 November 2019

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