2024WDSD: Foundation Kicks Against Factors Stifling Survival, Inclusion Of People With Down Syndrome

Stereotyping, misleading narratives, unfair cultural and religious prejudices and increasing lack of healthcare and education resources, have been described as challenges stifling the survival, inclusion and development of children with Down Syndrome in Nigeria.

This assertion was contained in a statement by Ugo Edward-Dibiana Down Syndrome Foundation, in Abuja on March 21, 2024, endorsed by its Director of Programmes, Pastor Olawale OlaOluwa, to mark the 2024 World Down Syndrome Day.

According to the Foundation, World Down Syndrome Day is annually celebrated on the 21st of March globally, in order to highlight the peculiar challenges faced by people with Down Syndrome and how government and the society could help to assuage their plight.

Down Syndrome (or Trisomy 21), experts say is a congenital chromosomal disorder, in which a person has an extra chromosome, a condition mostly responsible for development and learning disabilities.

Ugo Edward-Dibiana, a child with Down Syndrome, during a sensitisation walk in Abuja.

People with Down Syndrome are also impacted by diverse medical conditions too, including internal organ defects.The theme of this year’s event is #End the stereotypes.

Many people in the Nigerian society, according to the Foundation, “Still believe that children with disabilities are ‘possessed’ by some kind of evil spirits or demons and such other misleading narratives that expose them to cruel treatments, dehumanisation and stigmatisation.

The Foundation lamented that in Nigeria, “Sometimes, children with special needs are tragically ‘allowed’ to die, sadly, due to circumstances that are interwoven in lack of access to healthcare, cultural/religious prejudices, ignorance and incapacitating economic conditions of many indigent parents.”

Pastor OlaOluwa said that there is a need to end the stereotypes against people with Down Syndrome in Nigeria, especially children, who he said, “Are often rejected in schools or treated cruelly in the society, on account of their conditions, largely as a result of misinformation or perceptions rooted in both cultural or social prejudices.”

He disclosed that in some cases, “Children with Down Syndrome and other special needs are made to pay extra fees, much more higher than those paid by their peers in the same class, just for them to have access to education, in violation of the law against discrimination.

Speaking further, he said, “Children with Down Syndrome, just like other children with disabilities, face harrowing experiences in the society. Many people treat them as if their condition is a disease or contagious. But science has proven that it’s not.Even public transportation operators treat people with disability with disdain. It is always heartbreaking, especially for parents of such children with special needs, when some schools reject them because of the erroneous perception that they are either unteachable or that accepting them in a mainstream school would offend some parents of other children, who wouldn’t want their children to associate with children with such disability.

“It is also very insensitive and inappropriate for people to refer to children with Down Syndrome, as imbecile, daft, retard or other such inappropriate and denigrating names, that hurt their human dignity and self-esteem.

“It should be noted that with the right resources, early intervention in education and right social development plan, children with Down Syndrome can learn, develope and improve on their cognitive, emotional and social skills, like any other children, even though it might not be at the same pace, denying them access to education or not paying proper attention to their peculiar educational and social needs, amount to denial of their fundamental human rights. And we should all join our voices to say no to such denial of opportunities in our society.

“It is the responsibility of society and government at all levels to provide the right environment that would protect the interest and wellbeing of these vulnerable children and stop this disturbing lack of access to adequate education and healthcare resources, lingering discrimination and stigmatisation against children living with Down Syndrome and other disabilities, which is a violation of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.”Part V (21) (1) of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, clearly states that government shall provide free and adequate healthcare for people living with disability, but sadly, this hasn’t been the case in Nigeria.”

We at Ugo Edward-Dibiana Down Syndrome Foundation, believe that the beauty and credibility of every democracy are often judged by how it protects the weak and the disadvantaged demography against tendencies that threaten to hinder their well-being, dignity and survival in the society.

“We implore government to be more intentional in providing equal opportunities for all children, irrespective of their conditions. We also appeal to the society to be more sensitive and accomodating of children with disabilities and end the stereotypes against them, for the overall good of the society.”Signed:Pastor Olawale OlaOluwa,Director of Programmes.

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