Special Olympics, WHO, and Partners Commit To Ending Unjust Health Disparities for People with Intellectual Disabilities

By Rebecca Simon, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Prior to the official opening of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 on 14 March, Special Olympics will host a Global Inclusive Health Forum (Intellectual Disabilities) on 13 March.

Over 100 global health leaders will come together to ensure community health workers are adequately equipped with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to provide quality health care for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID).

Participants at the Global Inclusive Health Forum will discuss strategies and good practices and make commitments to fund and support training 10,000 community public health workers from 20 developing nations over the next 3-5 years.

People with intellectual disabilities face significant challenges accessing quality health care, resulting in pronounced health disparities, reduced life expectancy, and violations to their access to health as a human right.

The goal of Special Olympics is to facilitate the reform of health systems around the world to improve access to health for 11 million individuals with intellectual disabilities by 2020.

Dr. Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General, will address the Forum via video about the roles of the World Health Organization and Health Ministries in creating a more inclusive health environment and ultimately ensuring that health systems and public health worker training prioritize the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“In order for Universal Health Coverage to be truly universal, health systems must make unrelenting commitments to include people with intellectual disabilities, as they are often the most marginalized group in any country,” said Dr. Tedros.

“To achieve health for all people everywhere, we all have the responsibility to seek out those who have been left on the sidelines.”

“A commitment to health is the most important commitment anyone can make, whether you’re committing to your own health, the health of your community, or the health of your country,” said Nyasha Derere, Special Olympics Board Member, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, and Chair of Global Athlete Congress.

“The commitments made at the Global Inclusive Health Forum give Special Olympics athletes like me optimism that we will level the playing field for health.”

Experts from the United Nations, clinicians, humanitarian organizations, governmental and non-governmental aid agencies, corporations, and international development organizations will discuss how educating community health workers is the first step from equitable access to equitable outcomes.

In addition to Dr. Tedros, speakers include:

Nyasha Derera, Special Olympics Board Member, Sargent Shriver

International Global Messenger, and Chair of Global Athlete Congress

Renee Manfredi, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger

H.E. Hessa Bu Humaid, U.A.E. Minister of Community Development

Javier Vasquez, Vice President of Special Olympics Health Programs

Ann Costello, Executive Director, Golisano Foundation

Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Maria Soledad Cisternas, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General on Disability and Accessibility

Dr. Naresh Aggarwal, Chairperson & Lions Clubs International Immediate Past International President, Lions Clubs International

Nicolas Pron, Special Adviser, High Level Events, Initiatives & Partnerships, UNICEF

Alanna Armitage, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNFPA

Dr. Michelle Funk, Coordinator, Mental Health Policy and Service Development, World Health Organization

Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics

Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics
Red Crescent Societies

Maria Soledad Cisternas, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General on Disability and Accessibility

Dr. Naresh Aggarwal, Chairperson & Lions Clubs International Immediate Past International President, Lions Clubs International

Nicolas Pron, Special Adviser, High Level Events, Initiatives & Partnerships, UNICEF

Alanna Armitage, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNFPA

Dr. Michelle Funk, Coordinator, Mental Health Policy and Service Development, World Health Organization

Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics

Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 is the largest sports and social inclusion event on the planet — advancing a world of full inclusion for people with ID in sports, education, health and leadership.

“People with ID are rightfully demanding quality health care in their communities and their countries, and the Global Inclusive Health Forum is elevating their voices to the people in positions of power,” said:

Dr. Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics Chairman. “Special Olympics and health leaders are saying ‘we hear you!’ and the commitments made at the Forum will make health disparities history and make inclusive health a reality.”

The Forum will also recognize seven healthcare organizations and professionals who are on the frontlines of bringing essential and often unprecedented health care best practices and services to people with ID.

The Golisano Global Health Leadership Award honors the significant impact made by leading individuals and organizations from around the world in improving access to health for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Honorees will recognize from Belgium, China, India, Jordan, Kenya, Paraguay, and the United States of America.

The award is named for Tom Golisano, U.S. businessman and philanthropist, who has contributed $37 million to Special Olympics to advance inclusive health around the world.

“To improve access to quality health care for 11 million people with ID by 2020, health systems must become more inclusive,” said Ann Costello, Executive Director of the Golisano Foundation.

“Community health workers are on the frontlines of health.

They uniquely positioned to provide inclusive care for people with Intellectual disabilities.

By bringing health system leaders to the table at this forum, we are hopeful that those systems will implement the necessary change to eliminate the barriers that are preventing people with ID from getting necessary healthcare.”

Following the Forum, participants will gain firsthand insight in to the practical training of student and professional health workers by touring Special Olympics Healthy Athletes, a program that trains health care providers and students in adapted screening protocols and in communicating effectively with people with ID.

After a two-day Train-the-Trainer, volunteers offer athletes screenings in seven disciplines: optometry, dentistry, audiology, podiatry, physical therapy and fitness, health promotion, and emotional well-being.

Participants will also be given the opportunity to peruse the newly launched Center for Inclusive Health website and Special Olympics Online Training Portal with educational, interactive courses for coaches and health professionals.

The Global Inclusive Health Forum is sponsored by the Golisano Foundation and Lions Clubs International Foundation.

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