Since 2012, Healthy Communities has been activated in 68 countries and has yielded athlete engagement, increased attention to health from athletes and caregivers, and significantly increased health systems partnerships. Through support from the Golisano Foundation, and in the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Special Olympics Healthy Communities is a recognition program within Special Olympics, working to increase access to quality health care and effective prevention programming to improve the health of people with intellectual disabilities.
In addition to raising awareness about health disparities facing people with intellectual disabilities, Healthy Communities activates public and private sector partners to adopt more inclusive practices, train and empower athletes and caregivers to become vocal advocates, and ultimately make it possible for people with intellectual disabilities to live healthy lives in their own communities.
Through the Healthy Communities model, Special Olympics Programs are undertaking key health activities, including the following:
- training health professionals, workers and students in quality care and prevention;
- developing partnerships and referral networks for people with intellectual disabilities to receive quality care;
- conducting Healthy Athletes screenings in local communities;
- partnering with governments, health-care entities and other partner organizations to support efforts that increase access to care and prevention programming, and to influence services and opportunities are inclusive of people with intellectual disabilities;
- providing ongoing health, wellness and prevention activities to athletes in the areas of fitness, water and sanitation, malaria, hygiene, nutrition, and HIV;
- educating and training family members, athletes and coaches as health advocates.
From increases in reach of activities, exciting improvements to health outcomes have emerged. Among Special Olympics Programs implementing Healthy Communities between 2016 and 2019, significant improvements in health indicators were observed in Special Smiles. Of the more than 3,000 athletes screened more than once, relative to their earliest screening, at their most recent screening:
- 64% no longer had mouth pain, 26% no longer had untreated decay, 38% no longer had gingival signs, and 34% of improved their health to the extent that they no longer needed an urgent referral for follow-up care.