Even with the coronavirus pandemic still spreading across Europe during summer, Claudio Romano, a top Italian gastroenterologist, remained focused on his work regarding children with cerebral palsy: conducting research and discussing observations with colleagues via online hook-ups.
After one of those calls, Romano said, he received an unexpected query: Would he be willing to help develop guidelines for doctors confronting the tragic disease in six hospitals in China? Romano said he didn’t hesitate before agreeing.
“Cerebral palsy is a terrible disease,” Romano, director of gastroenterology at the Sicily’s University of Messina, told Xinhua. “Anything we can do to make treatment more effective is something we should do.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy refers to a category of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance. It stems from damage to the brain in the development stage.
Data from the University of Messina show that the disease is equally prevalent in both Italy and China, with about one new case for every 500 newborn children. Romano and his team at the University of Messina have ample experience in dealing with the disease.
Along with Valeria Dipasquale, another researcher from the University of Messina, Romano is coordinating a joint initiative entitled: “Outcomes of nutritional and gastrointestinal issues in Children with Neurological Impairment: An Intercontinental (Italy-China) Research Study Project.”
Also participating are representatives from the Hospital of Chongqing Medical University, the Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Center, the Children’s Hospital Zhejiang University School of Medicine, the Xinhua Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, the Xi’an Children’s Hospital, and The Third Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University.
According to documentation related to the initiative and provided to Xinhua, the aim of the project is to “assess the outcomes of artificial nutrition by gastrostomy or gastro-jejunostomy in children” with neurological impairment.
“Basically, we’re looking into warning signs of difficulties chewing and eating food, a common problem for children with cerebral palsy,” Romano said. “It’s not as simple as watching the child eat since the problems can be hidden. In some cases, it’s necessary to bypass the digestive system to provide the nutrition the child needs to develop.”
According to the documentation, the project is starting off with illustrations of Italian and European best practices, followed by a second phase of developing specific nutrition methods at the six Chinese hospitals.
“In these situations [pandemic], especially given the distance between Italy and China, we would probably do most or all of the discussions via video,” Romano said, adding that the language barrier between the two sides is addressed by translating everything into English and then into each language as needed.
Romano said the initiative is the first of its kind between health care officials focusing on gastroenterology and cerebral palsy in Italy and China. He said it may not be the last.
“Nobody can know what will happen, but the medical knowledge is something that should be shared for everyone’s benefit,” Romano said.