JKUAT Launches Innovative Wheelchair Learning Centre

Physiotherapy student, Francis Mutinda (right) showcases the different types of wheelchairs available

In a momentous event on Monday, December 4, 2023, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) unveiled its groundbreaking Wheelchair Learning Centre, a transformative initiative set to redefine healthcare accessibility.

The occasion, seen as a belated celebration of World Disability Day on December 3rd, marked a significant stride towards inclusive healthcare for persons with disabilities.

The Wheelchair Learning Centre operates on a pioneering two-pronged approach, empowering JKUAT’s physiotherapy and occupational therapy students with practical skills while simultaneously facilitating the provision of suitable wheelchairs to individuals with disabilities.

This groundbreaking initiative led by Dr Mwangi Matheri (JKUAT), Motivation Charity Trust (MCT) and A.I.C Child Care Centre, addresses a critical need, as an estimated 100,000 people urgently require appropriate wheelchairs, with only a mere 5% having access to ones that truly meet their needs, fit their environment, and are safe and durable.

Mr. Peter Mbugua, the CEO of MCT, highlighted the project’s significance as the first of its kind in the Sub-Sahara region, catering not only to Kenyans but extending its impact beyond borders. Other universities are already expressing interest in adopting the JKUAT model to implement in their respective countries.

“We have been waiting for students to graduate for them to start offering services which is expensive and not sustainable hence the need to integrate wheelchair service delivery into the curriculum.

During the launch, Vice Chancellor Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi expressed pride in inaugurating this groundbreaking initiative, emphasizing the importance of integrating wheelchair service delivery into the curriculum.

Prof. Ngumi commended the College of Health Sciences (COHES) for training students in this crucial area, addressing a significant gap in the field of rehabilitative services.

Head of Rehabilitative Services at the Ministry of Health, Mr. Alex Kisyanga, praised the initiative as a departure from the mass donations of inappropriate wheelchairs often distributed by politicians. He affirmed that the project aligns with the Assistive Technology Strategy, ensuring support for training and enhancing access to assistive technology.

The need for appropriate wheelchairs is often underestimated by the public, a fact highlighted by Ms. Catherine Waiyego, a beneficiary who experienced complications in form of pressure sores and a curved spine due to the use of an ill-fitting wheelchair. Her story underscored the crucial role of appropriate wheelchairs in aiding recovery to full mobility.

To ensure the project’s sustainability, JKUAT has implemented measures such as WHO basic wheelchair training for 96 fourth-year students from the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences. Additionally, 20 Wheelchair managers, 22 referral and screening actors, and 12 repair and maintenance technicians from Kiambu, Kajiado, and Baringo Counties have received specialized training.

Mercy Ndungú, a dedicated physiotherapy student at the center, has not only excelled in her academic pursuits but has also actively participated in rural outreach teams to Kajiado and Baringo counties. Through these experiences, she has acquired invaluable practical skills that have expanded her expertise beyond traditional expectations.

Prof. Victoria Ngumi (2nd right) leads the cake cutting ceremony after the launch

One notable accomplishment is her newfound ability to proficiently assemble wheelchairs—a skill traditionally associated with engineers. This hands-on exposure has not only broadened her skill set but has also instilled in her a sense of pride, knowing that she will graduate as a certified wheelchair provider.

Mercy’s journey reflects the students’ commitment to making a tangible impact in the field of physiotherapy, showcasing the transformative power of practical experiences in shaping healthcare professionals.

The launch attracted key stakeholders in rehabilitative matters, including the Association for the Physically Disabled Kenya (APDK), Ministry of Health, Nairobi and Kiambu County, AMREF University, Bethany Kids, among others, reflecting a united front in advancing inclusive healthcare for all.

So far, through this initiative, 68 persons have received appropriate wheelchairs.

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