• Free health screenings will be offered to 1,500 people with intellectual disabilities during the Games
  • Special Olympics has conducted more than 1.9 million free health screenings for athletes in over 135 countries and trained over 220,000 health care professionals.
  • A number of local health organizations will be present through the Games to provide health screenings

Abu Dhabi, 18 March 2018: 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 today officially invited to take part in Healthy Athletes®, made possible by the Golisano Foundation.

H.E. 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% have mouth pain, 62% have untreated tooth decay, 36% are missing teeth, 63% have signs of gingivitis, and 25% need urgent attention from a dentist.

Additionally, 38% of Special Olympics athletes in the MENA Region have never had an eye exam, 9% have permanent hearing loss, and 75% 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% are overweight and 16% are obese; among adults with ID, 25% are overweight and 7% 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 marginalization 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 program.

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 H.E. Mohamad 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 El Saeed, Regional Advisor, Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, World Health Organization, 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 healthcare 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.

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, athletes must have an intellectual disability; a cognitive delay, or a development disability, that is, functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills (they may also have a physical disability).

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About the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi (AD2019)
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, scheduled for March 14-21, will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world, with 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing more than 170 countries. The World Games will be an unprecedented display of the spirit, joy, courage and skill that are hallmarks of Special Olympics movement. The largest single event ever held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the first Special Olympics World Games in the Middle East and North Africa, the World Games features 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports in venues throughout Abu Dhabi. The spectacular opening ceremony on March 14 is expected to attract 45,000 spectators while being viewed by millions worldwide via global broadcast partners ESPN and Abu Dhabi Media.

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the 2019 World Games will be the most unified Special Olympics competition in history, with inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of the event. The Games are the most visible component of a planned series of initiatives by Abu Dhabi and the UAE to expand opportunity for people of determination (with intellectual disabilities), and to promote inclusion and understanding throughout the emirate, nation, and region. Plans for operation of the World Games include leaving a legacy of improved health, education, and inclusion that will benefit the UAE long after the event is over.