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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Special Olympics Healthy Athlete programme screens almost 7,000

For many of the athletes, the programme may be the first time they have had a medical screening

Special Olympics provide free health screenings to athletes. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Special Olympics provide free health screenings to athletes. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Almost 7,000 Special Olympics athletes have been screened over the past two days as part of the Healthy Athlete programme.

For many of the athletes, the programme may be the first time they have had a medical screening, and doctors found hundreds of cases of tooth decay, foot fractures and loss of hearing and vision.

Hundreds of doctors, healthcare workers and volunteers will be stationed at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre throughout the week to carry out health screenings in eight areas: podiatry, physical therapy, the promotion of better health and well-being, audiology, sports-related physical exams, vision, dentistry and emotional well-being.

Thousands of shoes, socks, hearing aids and prescription eyeglasses have been given out to the athletes over the last few days.

Dr Sami Tabib, a consultant podiatrist who is one of two volunteer clinical directors from Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, said that one patient was found to have a toe fracture and had to be taken to the emergency room.

“This stresses the importance of having to manage and train healthcare workers to treat athletes of determination because they have not been able to communicate the pain they are in with their team,” she said.

“This is an opportunity for them to access healthcare — unfortunately, people can have negative attitudes and blame health problems on the disability.”

Another issue is that many athletes with intellectually disabilities, she said, can find it "difficult to communicate," which also stops them getting the healthcare they need.

As a result of screenings, the Healthy Athletes programme has the world’s largest global data set on the health of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

It began offering free health screenings and education to Special Olympics athletes in 1997.

Since then, they have delivered over two million free health screenings and trained more than 260,000 health professionals and students to treat people with intellectual disabilities.

Half of all the athletes of determination that have been assessed by the podiatrists globally were found to have gait abnormalities, 53 per cent had skin and nail problems and one in five has a bone deformity, according to Special Olympics figures.

Additionally, 51 per cent of US athletes were found to be wearing the wrong size of shoe. Ensuring participants are equipped with appropriate footwear for their sports is another vital aspect of the initiative.

One company that provided free fitted sports shoes at ADNEC said that they saw athletes coming with sandals and socks.

Updated: March 14, 2019 06:56 PM

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