‘We need more special needs schools’, paediatrician says ahead of Down Syndrome day

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Head of the Paediatric Department at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis. (File photo)
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An increased number of special education facilities was just one of several measures that Head of the Paediatric Department at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis mentioned needs to be in place.

Dr Belle-Jarvis was speaking specifically about the need for more of these institutions to assist in educating children with Down Syndrome ahead of the March 21 World Down Syndrome Day.

“We have three facilities which are at their capacity, now what happens next? Where do other students, other children who need to be enrolled in these institutions, go if our sole facility is occupied?” Belle-Jarvis asked.

There are 16 children with Down Syndrome who are currently enrolled in either public or private schools.

Along with an increase in facilities, Dr Belle-Jarvis underscored the difficulties in diagnosing and treating the condition.

“We recognise that the cost for formally diagnosing can be very cost prohibitive and the most vulnerable may not be able to afford it. We are talking about a test during pregnancy that can cost US $900 just to see if your baby is at an increased risk of having Down Syndrome.

“Translating this thereafter to the cost of testing the baby after birth, we are looking at EC $1,800 for this test so most times, it is a presumed diagnosis,” she added.

She explained that although there are services available to assist when the eyes, hearing or even speech is affected, a lot of families cannot afford these treatments.

World Down Syndrome Day has been observed each year on March 21, since 2006.

International statistics say that around one in every 800 babies will be born with Down Syndrome – a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome – and which has no known cause.

Last year in Antigua and Barbuda only one baby was born with the condition out of 931 live births. For this year, there has been one baby born with down syndrome thus far, Dr Belle-Jarvis shared.

And while there are some statistics regarding the number of babies with the condition, there is a need for a registry, according to the paediatrician, to truly uncover the exact figure for persons on a whole within the country as this is not known. 

Every year on March 21, people all around the world come together to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day by wearing brightly coloured, mismatched socks.

The theme this year is “With Us Not For Us” and is focused on a human rights-based approach to disability – the right to be treated fairly, have the same opportunities as everyone else, and the freedom for people to make their own choices.

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