Extending a Hand in India

Sutanuka Bhattacharjya.

Sutanuka Bhattacharjya, a doctoral student in rehabilitation science, returned to home during her winter break to help children with cerebral palsay.

During the month-long hiatus between fall and spring semesters, when many students look forward to much-needed rest and relaxation, Sutanuka Bhattacharjya dedicated herself to helping patients in her native country, India.

“It was refreshing to see their hope and constant encouragement to find new and innovative ways to help these children. ”
Sutanuka Bhattacharjya

As a doctoral student in the Department of Rehabilitation Science, she couldn’t think of a better way to spend her time than by trying to help others.

As part of an on-going project with Janice Tona, PhD, and Arthur Goshin, MD, MPH, Bhattacharjya has worked to develop a video-based training module for community rehabilitation (CBR) workers in rural, under-developed areas of India. The project—which is part of a larger initiative in the school’s Office of Global Health Initiatives and funded by Goshin’s own HealthyWorld Foundation—has developed a partnership with the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (ICP) and Dimagi, a technology company specializing in providing mobile technology to underserved communities across the globe.

In rural areas of developing countries, where professionals such as occupational therapists are not as involved, CBR workers become very important. However, CBR workers are often volunteers that lack the necessary training to provide sufficient support to families that have children with cerebral palsy.

That’s where Bhattacharjya and project supporters like Goshin and his HealthyWorld Foundation come in.

In August 2013, Sutanuka made her first trip to India. On that trip, she observed CBR workers and families to assess their training needs.

“I interviewed CBR workers, individuals with disabilities and their parents regarding their experiences in managing daily activities of living such as feeding, dressing and toileting,” said Sutanuka. “It was refreshing to see their hope and constant encouragement to find new and innovative ways to help these children.”

From there, she worked with IICP to develop scripts that would be used to create video segments to be used by CBR workers.

“These videos are being planned so that when CBR workers go into rural communities and interact with a mother whose child has, say, difficulty eating, they can show the video to them and also provide that hands-on support that is often needed,” explains Sutanuka.

On her most recent trip, Sutanuka traveled to West Bengal, India, to capture video and photos to be made into a training module focused on mealtime management.

“More specifically, I focused on the feeding aspects of child care for children with oral motor difficulties,” she said. “We focused on feeding as a whole, then moved into more details, such as chewing, so that we could show various techniques that would allow parents to help facilitate chewing or swallowing of food.”

Since returning, Sutanuka has been working with a UB team to edit the raw footage, place the photographs, and add narration to the segments in Bengali—the native language to the portions of India that she worked in. “Once the video is edited and the photos have been selected, they will be sent off to Dimagi to create the final video segment module.” That final product will then be available through mobile technologies, such as cell phones.

It is Sutanuka’s hope that this will be the first in a series of video segments that can be used to help further aid CBR workers and parents whose children have cerebral palsy.

“Additional segments could be more focused on identification of disabilities,” says Sutanuka. “Meaning children can reach typical milestones as it relates to areas of physical or cognitive development and then showing deviations from that milestone to help future planning.”

“This project, while not a part of her dissertation, is still a labor of love,” said Janice Tona, PhD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Sutanuka’s faculty advisor for the project. “It really speaks to her level of commitment.”

“I envision this project helping families not only in India, but in other developing countries,” noted Tona. “We are so fortunate in the U.S. to have learned so much about managing the symptoms of cerebral palsy through research and now we are able to share this with families that were previously isolated.”