Abu Dhabi: Around 1,000 athletes participating in the Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018 and 500 people with intellectual disabilities (ID) from Abu Dhabi who are not Special Olympics athletes were on March 18 officially invited to take part in Healthy Athletes.
Prof Dr Maha Barakat, Senior Advisor, Abu Dhabi Executive Office, announced that athletes taking part in the games who have a range of untreated conditions, including hearing, dental and sight problems, will receive free treatment as well as medical aids.
"The Healthy Athletes Programme is a free programme providing health screenings and education for Special Olympics athletes. The importance of this is to uncover problems that are unbeknown to the individual.
"The host city Abu Dhabi, along with public and private sector partners like the Golisano Foundation, have generously contributed to cover the costs of the screenings.
"If we find untreated dental decay, we will treat it. If we find athletes with reduced hearing, they will be given free hearing aids. If we find that they have visual problems that can be corrected with medical glasses, they will be given medical glasses and we also have a series of health promotions stations that will give advice on how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
"The aim of these free programmes is that the athletes don't just come to compete in the games, but that they return to their different countries in better health and with healthier lifestyles."
Among Special Olympics athletes in the MENA Region, 23 per cent have mouth pain, 62 per cent have untreated tooth decay, 36 per cent are missing teeth, 63 per cent have signs of gingivitis, and 25 per cent need urgent attention from a dentist.
Additionally, 38 per cent of Special Olympics athletes in the MENA Region have never had an eye exam, 9 per cent have permanent hearing loss, and 75 per cent have balance problems.
Across the MENA Region, obesity and lack of health promotion services impact people with ID. Among Special Olympics athletes in the MENA Region, 18 per cent are overweight and 16 per cent are obese; among adults with ID, 25 per cent are overweight and 7 per cent are obese.
Dr Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, who travelled to the UAE for the IX MENA Games, welcomed the athletes to take part in free health screenings conducted by a team of local health clinicians.
"We are here to meet the athletes face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart and to end the labelling that leads to discrimination and marginalisation once and for all."
Dr Shriver praised the UAE for its commitment to inclusion across every segment of society. "The term ‘disability' has been erased here in the UAE - it has been replaced with ‘determination'," he said.
Local health professionals from SEHA, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, the Department of Health, Healthpoint Hospital, Body Tree Studio, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Maudsley Health Abu Dhabi and Imperial College London Diabetes Centre will conduct free health screening throughout the games. The health screenings will include podiatry, vision, dentistry, physical therapy/fitness, nutrition and healthy habits, audiology and emotional well-being.
Many of the health care professionals delivering screenings and education were trained by Special Olympics in October 2017 in a three-day Train the Trainer programme.
Dr Dainus Puras, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, said: "It is very important to support initiatives which open the doors for persons with intellectual challenges for the full recognition of their rights and for them to lead meaningful lives – this is what Special Olympics is doing.
"I support these extraordinary health-promoting and human rights-promoting movements. We all need to do more for people with intellectual challenges so that no one is left behind."
Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics, said: "We have to end discrimination. We have to do more to train physicians, doctors, educators.
"That is why it is so great to be amongst people today who know so much about this. We want them to go out and spread the message across the UAE, the MENA region and the world."
Also in attendance at the launch was Mohammad Abdulla Al Junaibi, Chairman of the Higher Committee of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, Peter Wheeler, CEO of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, Ayman Abdel Wahab, Special Olympics Regional President and Managing Director for the MENA Region and Khalid Al Saeed, Regional Advisor, Department of Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health, World Health Organisation, Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (Representing Regional Director of WHO for the Eastern Mediterranean Region).
Over more than 20 years, Special Olympics has trained more than 220,000 professionals as part of the programme, improving access to quality health services year-round and around the world.
These health-care professionals provide life-changing care to millions of people with ID. When people with ID have access to health services, they also have more opportunities for education, employment, sports, and other pathways to reach full participation in society.
Special Olympics IX MENA Games and Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are part of the UAE's National Vision 2030 that empowers people of determination with intellectual disabilities through sports to be integrated into everyday society.
Special Olympics IX MENA Games are open to members of the public and free to attend, with around 25,000 spectators expected to visit the games.
More than 1,000 athletes from 31 countries are currently in Abu Dhabi to take part in MENA IX Games; the first major sporting event ahead of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Athletes are taking part in 16 different sports in eight different venues including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer's Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club.