BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The newly-expanded Child Development Centre (CDC) in Kg Kiarong will allow health professionals to cope with the two-fold increase in referrals of children with special needs, said the centre’s head on Saturday.

Referrals to CDC have nearly doubled from 400 in 2010 to 766 in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr Hjh Mawarni Hj Abdul Hamid, who is also the head of Community Paediatrics Unit.

She said the increase in numbers was a reflection of the global situation where more children had been diagnosed with developmental disorders.

Asked whether the centre has enough manpower to deal with the rise in patients, Dr Hjh Mawarni said, “we have increased the number of staff at CDC since five years ago… not as [many] as we would like but it is something that we are aware of and we do need more professionals to work in this field”.

The Ministry of Health held an opening ceremony for the refurbished CDC building in Kg Kiarong on Saturday.

The $1.2 million renovation project will allow the centre to provide services ranging from prevention, early detection, early intervention and holistic care for children with special needs, including education and social welfare.

During the CDC’s renovation since 2016, its services were relocated to Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hjh Saleha Hospital and Pusat Ehsan Al Ameerah Al Hajjah Maryam.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham inspecting some of the facilities available at the newly refurbished Child Development Centre in Kg Kiarong. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Number of autism cases rises six-fold in 10 years

The CDC has treated more than 7,000 children over the past 20 years, including 2,300 autistic children.

A total of 430 children were diagnosed with cerebral palsy; 400 children with Down Syndrome and another 200 children with hearing loss.

In his speech, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said autism cases have increased six-fold in the last 10 years.

Thirty-six new cases of autism were recorded in 2011, and the number increased to 218 in 2020. As of early March this year, the CDC has diagnosed 38 children with autism.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said advancements in the field of medicine has improved the survival rate and level of children’s health.

“We have also seen an increase in developmental problems among children,” he said.

“For example, children born prematurely can now survive at 24 weeks gestation, due to increasingly sophisticated neonatological care.

“Nevertheless, there is much evidence from scientific studies showing that children who were born premature and had extremely low birth weight are at risk of neurodevelopmental problems,” the minister added.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham plants a tree at the re-opened Child Development Centre in Kg Kiarong. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

He further said the quality of intensive care has improved in Brunei, increasing critically ill children’s chances of surviving.

However, children with serious head injuries will likely experience problems with their development and functional skills.

“Therefore, Brunei needs to focus not only on the survival of children or the reduction of mortality, but also ensure the optimal development of children and the best quality of life,” he added.