A new research paper has identified significant gaps in the provision of therapeutic services for people suffering from speech disorders around Cambodia and estimates that more than 600,000 people could benefit if such services are funded and a new speech therapy degree program established in universities.
The paper, which was released on Thursday by the Capacity Building of People with a Disability in the Community Organization (CABDICO) NGO, found that while communication and swallowing disorders affect an estimated 536,000 people in Cambodia, those living with learning difficulties, epilepsy or cognitive impairments could also benefit from proper speech therapy services.
“Although data in Cambodia is insufficient, informed estimates indicate that the potential number of beneficiaries from a fully operational speech therapy service is likely to be more than 600,000 individuals,” the report says.
Weh Yeoh, the disability consultant who authored the report, writes that “the implications of untreated communication and swallowing disorders are serious.”
“People with untreated swallowing disorders are 13 times more likely to suffer premature death than those who are not…. People with communication problems face isolation and low opportunities to participate in work, school or community. Mental health is also majorly impacted,” the report adds.
But the report found that although there are a number of organizations seeking to provide therapy services, “research into stakeholders demonstrates the large gap that exists in service provision,” and that they are not always capable of “performing them comprehensively.”
Expertise in the area of swallowing disorders is “very low,” while there are no organizations focusing on helping people with expressive or receptive language disorders.
In some cases, people are excluded from receiving help because they do not meet the criteria for therapy that some organizations provide.
“For example, service providers that specialize in hearing and visual impairments do provide some services for children that have speaking impairments. However, in order to qualify for this service, the children that have speaking impairments must have a hearing impairment as well. This excludes those children with speaking impairments but no hearing impairments,” the report says.
According to CABDICO’s executive director, Yeang Bun Eang, it is difficult to raise funds for such services in Cambodia.
“Most of the people focus on advocacy, but there is no point doing advocacy if the basic needs [of children with disabilities] are not met,” he said.
Mr. Yeoh said one approach that could reap long-term, sustainable benefits would be to see the establishment of a speech therapy degree that “will be fully Cambodian owned, initiated and run.
“This is the only way that Cambodia can reduce their dependency on outside expertise and funds, and address the situation for over 600,000 people in a comprehensive manner.”