Dubai: Residents, families and shoppers took part in a walkathon on Thursday evening to celebrate International Down Syndrome Day, which falls on March 21.
Held at Mirdif City Centre under the theme ‘What I bring to my community,’ the event was organised by Emirates Down Syndrome Association in partnership with the Ministry of Community Development.
Shaikh Mansour Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairman of the Higher Committee for the Protection of the Rights of People of Determination, joined hundreds of residents and families with children who have Down syndrome in a walkathon around the mall.
Down syndrome (DS), also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It happens due to congenital disorder in the number of chromosomes during the formation of the foetus. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability.
Gulf News talked to Nawal Al Haj Nasser, deputy chairman of the association, who has a 15-year-old son born with Down syndrome.
“The date 21/3 was chosen to celebrate this cause because those who have Down syndrome carry a third copy of chromosome 21. The UAE is one of the first countries in the region to join the celebration on this day,” said Nasser.
She said the walkathon aims to not only spread awareness about the condition, but to also encourage people to interact with those who have Down syndrome.
“Many people are too afraid to get close or talk to people with Down syndrome because they don’t know much about the condition. This event is gathering everyone — even shoppers — to walk together and find out more about Down syndrome,” said Nasser.
Discussing facilities and activities available to adults and children with Down syndrome in the UAE, Nasser referred to the Emirates Down Syndrome Association, which offers residents with the condition weekly activities in various fields such as sports, art, and training courses.
“Along with activities, the association provides people with the condition different types of rehabilitation including physiotherapy rehabilitation, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and medical counselling,” said Nasser.
She further highlighted the importance of “inclusion” of children and adults with Down syndrome in schools, the workplace and the society, and referred to the family support groups, training courses, and facilities at the association that have benefited many residents and families who are in need of support.
The training courses include swimming training, memorising Quran, job training, first aid training, and drawing workshops.
“With inclusion at schools, for example, it creates the best scenario for both children with Down syndrome and those without as they learn to interact, learn together and become friends,” said Nasser.
Just the same, Emirati Aliah Darwish, who has an eight-year-old son with Down syndrome, referred to the importance of spreading awareness among the society with the aim of achieving inclusion.
“I think when it comes to Down syndrome, there is a lot of support from the government in the UAE. Things have really improved even from as short as two years ago,” she said.
Darwish pointed out that such events play a key role in changing the common perception about people with Down syndrome in the community. “We want more people to know that those with the condition are normal people, they might be different genetically, but they can learn and lead normal lives. With more awareness events, we can slowly get the support of the society and decision-makers,” she said.
The World Health Organisation estimates the worldwide prevalence of condition to be about one in 1,000 births worldwide.
The risk of having an anomaly in the 21st chromosome, which causes Down syndrome, is one in 1,667 for a woman who conceives at 20 years of age. By 35 years, this risk increases to one in 378, and at 43 years, it is as high as one in 49.
The Emirates Down Syndrome Association is a non-profit organisation, which was accredited in September 2006 under Ministerial Decree No. 405 by the Ministry of Social Affairs to serve people with Down syndrome in the UAE.