A record-breaking number of Special Olympics athletes from around the world, as well as unified partners and members of the local community, received free medical check-ups as part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program.

Held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC) throughout the World Games, teams of medical professionals carried out more screenings than ever before as part of the program. 23,296 individual screenings in various specialized areas such as overall fitness, weight and well-being, podiatry, hearing, sight and dental were conducted.

Healthy Athletes is made possible globally by the Golisano Foundation and locally by the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi (DoH), the regulator of the healthcare sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and NMC Health Plc, the UAE’s largest private healthcare company listed at London’s FTSE 100 Index.

The DoH played an instrumental role in leading preparations for the event to ensure it was a success.

A total of 5,888 people received a check-up, including 4,883 athletes from 190 Special Olympics programs as well as 851 non-athletes, unified partners, coaches and members of the community.

Dr. Omniyat Al Hajeri, Director of Public Health at the DoH, said: “It has been an honor to have worked with the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 Organizing Committee and the Healthy Athletes team to carry out an unprecedented number of health screenings at this historical event.

“In line with our commitment to ensuring a healthy life for all, we are pleased to have been able to use the Games as a platform to provide athletes of determination and their delegations with valuable health information. We hope that through our work, we can help them to lead a healthier life.”

Prasanth Manghat, CEO and Executive Director NMC Health Plc. Said: “The success of healthcare rests in enhancing its access to those in need. Many of the athletes had treatable disorders and early detection could save them from permanent disabilities as they were detected in time. NMC is committed to the overall improvement in the health and wellness of the communities and is honored to be a healthcare partner to the recently concluded Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. This is the world’s largest humanitarian sporting event – a profound global movement, and NMC wishes tremendous success to the Healthy Athletes program in all times to come.”

Among those who attended the Healthy Athletes program was Maria Theresa Macanas Colina. The 16-year-old from the Philippines competed in rhythmic gymnastics at the World Games and was amazed by the concept.

“The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program was really fun and informative as I got to learn some many things,” said Maria.

“For example, we were told which types of foods had many sugars that can affect your performance and that was really useful. They also spoke on the importance of healthy exercise and the correct methods of brushing your teeth.”

As well as the free examinations, the program has become an important platform in discovering unknown health issues.

The Philippines head coach, Mary Eu Ann Ordono, who has been involved in three World Games, praised the impact of the program.

“The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program is very important for our athletes as it gives them an understanding of how important health is,” she said. “It’s a great environment for them to meet professional doctors and get advice and everyone has really enjoyed themselves here.”

She added: “A few years ago, there were two athletes who found out they had a problem with their eyes and hearing, which they were not aware of. Both received a free pair of spectacles and a hearing aid and were really grateful for this program.”

Another athlete who was impressed with the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program is Mohammed Al Gburi. The 31-year-old represented Iraq in handball and had nothing but praise for the program.

“It’s an excellent program where so many medical experts are in one place offering examinations,” he said.

“I undertook a blood pressure test plus I learned the importance of nutrition, which will help me improve when I play handball.”

A break-down of the Healthy Athletes screenings held during the World Games shows that the Fit Feet program distributed 7,530 pairs of shoes, Healthy Hearing fitted 478 hearing aids for 260 athletes from 67 countries, 883 pairs of eye-glasses were given to athletes through Opening Eyes, and Special Smiles treated a range of conditions including mouth pain, untreated tooth decay and signs of Gingival in 3,429 people. Strong Minds, which is an interactive learning activity focused on developing adaptive coping skills, screened 2,617 people.

Fun Fitness experts provided 1,969 athletes and unified partners with essential information on balance, strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness education so that they can lead healthier lives when they return home after the World Games. The Health Promotion screenings saw medical experts address a range of issues such as obesity in adults and youngsters and low bone density.

All of the screenings provide life-changing care to athletes and people with intellectual disabilities, so they also have more opportunities for education, employment, sports, and other pathways to reach full participation in society.

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