Athletes and students with intellectual disabilities are screened for a range of health issues


21 March 2018, Abu Dhabi: Medical professionals carried out almost 3,000 screenings for a range of health conditions as part of the Healthy Athletes program at the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 in Abu Dhabi.

A total of 913 people with intellectual disabilities, 500 of whom are Special Olympics athletes from across the 32 countries taking part in this year’s Games in the UAE capital, were treated for dental, vision and podiatry-related issues amongst others over the duration of the Games.

Healthy Athletes®, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, screens for seven separate disciplines: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), Strong Minds (emotional well-being), Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes (vision), and Special Smiles (dentistry).

Leila El Shenawy, Special Olympics Health Programs Manager for the MENA Region, said: “For me, Health is the most important program of the Special Olympics and one of the most important in the world.

“Healthy Athletes is able to help so many people who otherwise might not get the treatment and care they need. Oftentimes the athletes come to us suffering with a pain, discomfort or condition that they have never had treated. Sometimes they have learned to live with the pain and just get on with their lives.

“We are able to make a big difference to not only their time at the Games but also their future lives.”

Globally, Special Olympics Health is made possible by the Golisano Foundation. At Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 in Abu Dhabi, Healthy Athletes is being made possible thanks to the close and continued support of local medical partners including Abu Dhabi’s NMC Healthcare, the UAE’s largest private healthcare company.

Mohammad Ayman Salem, Events Manager, Healthy Athletes, said: “NMC Healthcare is one of the main regional medical partners and has been extremely generous in supplying around 90 per cent of the equipment used here in Abu Dhabi by medical teams who are screening athletes via vital equipment ranging from dental chairs, treatment tables to stadiometers and many other items.”

“Having regional partners such as NMC is extremely crucial for our seamless operations and allow us to reach as many athletes as possible. Without partners such as NMC Healthcare we would not be able to do this.”

Dental issues are one of the most common health problems in the MENA region encountered by medical staff carrying out screenings as part of Healthy Athletes.

“Our Special Smiles program has been able to help many athletes who otherwise might not receive the treatment they need,” said Mohammad.

Doctors carrying out screenings as part of Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes were able to detect a previously unknown issue with an Egyptian athlete’s sight. The girl, who was suffering from a build-up of pressure behind her eyes, was at risk of losing her vision if the problem was not treated.

“The athlete was sent to hospital in Abu Dhabi for care,” said Leila. “If her condition was left untreated, she could have gone blind within two years.

“As part of her treatment, Special Olympics Health will arrange for follow up care at a hospital in Egypt to make sure she receives the best treatment possible.”

Over the course of the Games in Abu Dhabi, Healthy Hearing discipline has been providing athletes with essential hearing aids and Opening Eyes is providing eye glasses, supplied by partners Safilo Group and Essilor Vision Foundation.

“The frames and lens for the glasses are made onsite at ADNEC within two hours,” said Leila. “It is very quick and makes a big difference. If the athlete’s lens prescription can’t be made here, they will receive their new glasses before they return to their home country.”

Prasanth Manghat, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of NMC Health, said: “Healthy Athletes at the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 in Abu Dhabi is doing incredible work to screen a wide range of previously unknown health issues that affect athletes from all over the world.

“These athletes deserve the very best medical care to not only help them perform at the highest level in the Games, but also to lead a healthier and happier life when they return home.”

“I was deeply moved after I realized how neglected the athletes’ health was, owing to countless reasons ranging from inadequate expression to inadequate access to healthcare. Healthy Athletes is helping to change lives and NMC Healthcare is extremely proud to be a supporter of this truly amazing and inspiring program.”

Special Olympics IX MENA Games and Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are a part of the UAE’s National Vision 2021 that highlights full integration of people of determination into everyday society. Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the most ‘unified’ games in history and promise to offer an inclusive experience for those with and without intellectual disabilities.

More than 1,000 athletes from 32 countries have travelled to Abu Dhabi to take part in MENA IX Games, which is the first major sporting event ahead of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Athletes are taking part in 16 sports across eight venues including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club.

Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will see the biggest humanitarian sporting event in the world coming to the Emirati Capital, marking its first debut in the history of the MENA region.

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About the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi (AD2019)
Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, scheduled for March 8-22, 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 with 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.