ANATIONAL campaign to help an estimated 8,000 handicapped children launched last week is to be warmly welcomed. The campaign is designed to help sufferers from spina bifida (split spine) and/or hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
A campaign leaflet says: "No surgeon can transplant a spine, but we can build this child's life .. . with your help."
The two conditions, present at birth, and often found in the same child, used to be fatal in four out of five cases. As a result of medical advances, these children are now surviving in increasing numbers.
It is estimated that at least 050,000 is needed for medical and social research, education and welfare, and building of special schools. There is also a need for, home visitors and in some cases for hardship grants.
But tht. campaign is concerned not only with fundraising. It is also aimed at educating the public and inspiring more action to help the
children at all levels. • The Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (ASBAH), which is sponsoring the campaign, is anxious to locate all the parents of affected children. Many do not know that help is available to them., and there. is no central register of spina bifida or hydrocephalic patients.
Mr. R. B. Zachary, consultant surgeon, who is chairman of ASBAH, believes spina bifida children have not had a square deal, mainly because the size of the problem has not been realised.
Mr. Zachary, who is a Catholic, said: "Few chill, dren with spina bifida and hydrocephalus could walk into a room as we have done today. Many would be using calipers and elbow-crutches, but others would not be on their feet at all, because their paralysis was so severe or because they were waiting for an operation.
"This is the most obvious form of spina bifida—paralysis of some or even all of the muscles of the legs. The split
in the spinal arch (the. bifid spine) causes nervous tissue to lie exposed on the surface of the back at birth.
"Some of the nerve cells in the spinal cord have not developed properly so that there is no control over the muscles they serve, and this includes the bladder as well as the legs.
"Some children with spina bifida have excessive fluid within the brain (hydrocephalus), very often in such quantity and at such a high pressure that it will damage the brain unless treated. It was the development by John Hotter of a valve system for treating hydrocephalus that made the treatment of the rest of the disability worthwhile. With modern treatment, most children will have normal intelligence and a normal-sized head,"
The lis e births in Britain of children with spina bifida amounted to more than 1,500 each year, said Mr. Zachary. At least another 500 were stillborn, but with steadilyimproving obstetric care. tending to reduce the proportion of stillbirths, the chief concern was with those now born alive.
ASBAH was concerned with three aspects of the problem : Treatment and research; welfare; education and vocational training.