|About the Author: My name is Dieudonne Nsabimana, I am the Coordinator of the African Stuttering Centre (ASC) and Chair of an umbrella organization of people who stutter in Rwanda.Because stuttering is big stigma in Africa, I became an activist and I fight for the rights of people who stutter.|
There are only two Speech-language Pathologists (SLPs) in Rwanda for a population of over eleven million people. Using the universally accepted incidence rates of stuttering (one percent of the population), there are 110,000 people who stutter in Rwanda, resulting in an estimate of one SLP for 55,000 people who stutter. Clearly access to treatment for stuttering is not available to all who need it.
The application of telehealth technologies offers effective solutions to this challenge. Distance Stuttering Therapy Program Africa (DSTPA) has been developed in Rwanda to deal with this shortfall.
The DSTPA is unlocking the voices of people who stutter across a part of Rwanda by providing free speech therapy using video conferencing calls. It is delivered by graduate students from the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and the Southeast Missouri State University (SMSU) who are supervised by certified and licensed SLPs.
DSTPA is the first program to provide tele-therapy to patients in Africa where there has been no access to therapy services, and also heals the negative emotions caused by stuttering. This program was initiated in 2010 by two people, who once stuttered themselves; Mr. Dieudonne Nsabimana, Founder of the African Stuttering Center (ASC) and Dr. Dale Williams, Professor at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU). After years of working out logistics, the program welcomed its first patient in February 2014.
Dr. Williams says the all clients have made great progress towards their long-term goals. In fact, one of his clients, Francois, states: “The treatment is perfect for me and helping me to improve my speech — it’s also easy to take part in since I don’t need to travel elsewhere. We are using Skype video calls and sharing documents through e-mails.”
The program is clearly popular, with the experience of conversing via Skype proving to be just as personal as face-to-face therapy.
I am confident that other universities will follow the generous involvements of FAU and SMSU in providing tele-therapy — already having been contacted by University of Ottawa and University of California Riverside School of Medicine for more information.
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