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Pakistani Teenager Umer Javaid Fights Disability with His Feet

The last census in Pakistan was done in 1998. Since then, no new data has been collected on the number of disabled.

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Umer Javaid. Image Source-VOA

https://youtu.be/5fc4tegC99c

Pakistani Teenager Overcomes Disability with His Feet

He could have gone through life feeling sorry for himself. He had the perfect excuse, after all — he was born without hands. But his father would have none of it.

Umer Javaid’s father taught him to use his feet for everything usually done with hands: eating with a fork, drinking out of a glass, typing, painting, throwing a ball and playing video games.

Today, he is so used to it, he hardly thinks about his missing limbs.

And even though he is only in the ninth grade, he is already on the road to financial independence.

“I once made a painting that was sold for 5,000 rupees ($50),” he said. “I have already sold 155 of my paintings.”

Javaid’s story, however, is hardly representative of life for the disabled in Pakistan.

Related Article: Learning Disability: Things we need to know

Activists lament that the country lacks the most basic understanding of disabilities, or how best to use resources to deal with them.

Asim Zafar, president of a local NGO for the disabled called Saaya, recalls that his parents and grandparents spent all their savings trying to cure his polio before finding out that the disease had no cure.

On a larger scale, a lack of reliable data reflects the society’s lack of interest in its disabled population.

No recent numbers

The last census in Pakistan was done in 1998. Since then, no new data has been collected on the number of disabled. People rely on a World Health Organization report from 2010 that says that about 15 percent of the world population is somewhat disabled, and 2 to 4 percent severely disabled.

Wheel chair distribution at Saaya, a NGO in Pakistan. Image source: Saaya association.com
Wheel chair distribution Ceremony at Saaya, a NGO in Pakistan. Image source: Saaya association.com

It does point out that the numbers are not evenly distributed around the world, and that vulnerable populations are more at risk.

Given the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan during the last decade, in which more than 50,000 people have died; a devastating earthquake in 2005 that injured more than 100,000; the presence of chronic diseases; and a lackluster health care system to deal with them, many activists fear the disability rate in Pakistan may be much higher than the WHO figures.

No accommodations

Facilities to accommodate all those people, however, remain a dream.

Public spaces, transport and toilets are often not handicapped accessible. Regular schools are not designed to accommodate disabled children.

The government provides special schools for the disabled, but they are limited to relatively bigger cities and have limited capacity. Even that facility ends at 10th grade.

“When they go to a regular institution after 10th grade, they encounter a completely different environment,” Zafar explained.

Getting to the institution alone was a challenge for those who could not afford a private car or a cab every day. Once there, they had to contend with a lack of toilets for the handicapped, or classes that were up a flight of stairs with no elevator access.

The odds were stacked so high against them, he said, that those who started college were more likely than not to drop out after a few days.

The problems continued into the workplace, where a similar lack of facilities and transportation options kept most disabled people out.

Wheelchairs that could provide freedom and mobility to a person with disabilities were a rarity in Pakistan, according to Zafar. His NGO imported used wheelchairs from Japan and repaired them to hand them out for free to those in need.

Javaid said he is a good example of how the disabled can become productive members of society. All they need is a training in how to take things into their own hands — or in his case, feet. (VOA)

Next Story

Experts Warn Human Genome Editing is Too Risky

Chinese scientist triggered an international storm when he announced he had created the first gene-edited babies. He said he had edited the DNA of the twin girls to protect them from HIV

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genome editing, human
FILE - An embryo receives a small dose of Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA in a sperm injection microscope in a laboratory in Shenzhen, in southern China's Guangdong province, Oct. 9, 2018. VOA

A group of experts meeting for the first time to examine the pros and cons of human genome editing say it would be “irresponsible” to engage in this procedure at this time. Late last year, a Chinese scientist triggered an international storm when he announced he had created the first gene-edited babies. He said he had edited the DNA of the twin girls to protect them from HIV.

Having met at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva earlier this week, the 18-person panel warned the procedure is too risky and should not be attempted before a system of strong rules governing this technique are established. Co-chair of the advisory committee, Margaret Hamburg, said the group has agreed on a set of core principles. She said the panel recommends the WHO create a registry for human genome editing research.

human, genome editing
Having met at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva earlier this week, the 18-person panel warned the procedure is too risky. Wikimedia

Under this system, she said scientific work in these technologies would be registered in a transparent way. “We think it is very important to establish this registry to get a better sense of the research that is going on around the world, greater transparency about it, and in fact greater accountability in terms of assuring that research meets standards in terms of science and ethics,” Hamburg said.

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The experts agree this would preclude the kind of secrecy that surrounded the work of the Chinese scientist. She said the panel would like this transparency to extend to the publication of manuscripts that emerge from important research. Hamburg said publishers will be asked to ensure the research has been registered with the WHO before it is publicized.

Hamburg said developing the guidelines on human genome editing is a process that will take about 18 months to complete, noting that it is a difficult, but urgent task that must be carried out in a thoughtful, comprehensive manner. (VOA)