Providing Health Services Worldwide for the Most Underserved
Zinab Mohi Edin of Lebanon's grip strength is assessed at the 2014 Special Olympics Middle East North Africa Regional Games in Cairo. Special Olympics athletes attending the games received free health examinations that assessed their vision, hearing, dental health and general fitness.
What if you could help up to 200 million people worldwide who suffer needlessly from chronic pain and disease, blindness and hearing loss, shortened life span, and other health conditions? That's what we do everyday!
Her Excellency President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi addresses a Clinton Global Initiative forum on “From Stigma to Success: Empowering The World’s Billion People with Disabilities.” At left are Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Tim Shriver and Special Olympics athlete Loretta Claiborne.
At more than 1.6 million free health examinations in more than 130 countries, the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program offers health services and information to athletes in dire need. In the process, Special Olympics has become the largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities.
Healthy Athletes currently offers health examinations in seven areas: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), MedFest (sports physical exam), Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes (vision) and Special Smiles (dentistry). Officially launched in 1997, Healthy Athletes organizes its events in a welcoming, fun environment. Its events educate athletes on healthy lifestyle choices and identify problems that may need additional follow-up.
That record of success and benefit of Special Olympics’ health program led U.S. businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano to commit $12 million to expand Special Olympics’ health-related services and launch a new Healthy Communities initiative in 2012. The donation was announced by former U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative event in New York City.
U.S. businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano as he announces his $12 million commitment to Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics Healthy Communities initiative takes the principles of the Healthy Athletes program and expands them from a series of single events to a steady presence in the lives of our athletes and their families that includes a focus on follow-up care, wellness opportunities, access and education. Now in its third year, the Healthy Communities pilot is clearly demonstrating that health needs to remain a priority for the Special Olympics movement.
Special Olympics Programs in eight countries (Mexico, Peru, Romania, Malawi, South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand and Kazakhstan) and six U.S. states (Arizona, Florida, Kansas, New Jersey, Wisconsin and New York) are piloting Healthy Communities.
Across the 14 locations, 65,747 Healthy Athletes exams have been held, with 16,274 in locations where Healthy Athletes have never been held before. To date since the pilot began, these Programs have trained 6,457 health advocates (family members, coaches, athlete leaders) on important, locally relevant health topics that they can use to educate others in their community. Additionally, more than 13,000 athletes participated in wellness opportunities and 3,000 athletes received follow-up care after a Healthy Athletes exam through Programs recognized as Healthy Communities.
Part of the Healthy Communities concept also extends to educating health-care professionals and students. To address health-care disparities, specific training has been provided to more than 16,000 health-care professionals and students, enabling them to return to their communities with increased knowledge of people with intellectual disabilities and a greater willingness to have them as patients. New partnerships have also been created with more than 200 organizations, universities and health-care providers at the local level.
The successful pilot and the lessons learned by these Programs led to a 2014 announcement that all Special Olympics Programs now can seek to achieve Healthy Community recognition by providing follow-up care after Healthy Athletes, as well as year-round programming in health and wellness opportunities for local athletes.
Did You Know?
- Despite a mistaken belief that people with intellectual disabilities receive the same or better health care than others, they typically receive sub-standard care, or virtually no health care at all.
- Healthy Athletes has the world's largest database of health data for people with intellectual disabilities.
- Through Healthy Athletes, more than 136,000 health care professionals have been trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities. These health care professionals provide improved care to millions.
- Special Olympics has given out more than 100,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses to athletes who needed them.
Miracles at Every Turn
Moise Ahoussimou, a poor West African boy with an intellectual disability and next to no vision, is one example. While volunteering at Healthy Athletes, a doctor realized Moise had been blinded by cataracts. He was referred for a simple operation, and Moise left his appointment with restored sight. He saw his father for the first time. “I can see." He grabbed his father’s hand. “Hey! Dad, I didn’t know you are that tall!”
Miracles like Moise’s happen at every screening. A volunteer dentist from California, USA saved athlete Dustin Plunkett's life by finding his mouth cancer. Mariam Zakhary of Egypt, fitted with a hearing aid, heard her language and her coach for the first time in her life. Stories like Mariam’s are inspiring nations like Egypt to expand their offerings to athletes. All Special Olympics Egypt athletes now receive medical exams and follow-up care.
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