Paediatrician wants more inclusion, equity for children with Down Syndrome

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By Carlena Knight

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As the world paused to observe World Down Syndrome Day yesterday, Head of the Paediatric Unit at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis shared that a lot more can be done to ensure affected children are not left out.

Belle-Jarvis said that although some progress has been made locally, “there is still a long road ahead”.

“You know, we have just started and it really takes just a few steps to start a major journey. We have a long way to go in terms of advocacy, in terms of ensuring that our children have equal opportunities and rights in terms of education, co-curricular activities, even consistent access to health care because if, for example, a parent is in a destitute situation, then they may not bring their child forward for healthcare.

“So, we have a long way to go here in Antigua and Barbuda but we have started and that’s the important thing,” Belle-Jarvis said.

One of those areas that needs continuous work, according to the medical practitioner, is the stigma that surrounds the condition.

“It is still prevalent. I think it may be sort of an undertone. Persons like to stare a lot if they see someone who is different and, unfortunately, persons like to lump everybody into a Down Syndrome bracket.

“So, if you have a child who has speech delay or otherwise has another form of developmental delay, has autism, is hyperactive, then everybody is lumped into having Down Syndrome, whereas they are so different and unique.

“So, again, that is where raising awareness and having educational drives will make a difference,” she added.

On Sunday, the Paediatric Unit hosted a fun bike ride to mark Monday’s international observance, in collaboration with the Antigua and Barbuda Cycling Federation (ABCF).

The event saw children with the condition, their parents, hospital staff, cyclists and other supporters all dressed in brightly coloured socks, riding around the Pan Am Base in Coolidge in a bid to raise awareness of Down Syndrome.

The department also hosted a sports day last Thursday at the Police Recreation Grounds which was attended by some of its young patients, along with students from the Adele School and the Victory Centre.

Each year, on March 21, Down Syndrome International invites everyone across the world to wear odd or vibrant socks to support World Down Syndrome Day.

The date is the 21st day of the third month to signify the uniqueness of the triplication of the 21st chromosome which causes the condition.

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