All for sports and life within Healthy Athletes Programme

By Xinhua

Shanghai : Over 280 doctors of 73 hospitals and 400 volunteers from local medical schools have been working hard at the Special Olympics Town, offering free check-ups to the athletes at the Special Olympics World Summer Games since it opened Tuesday.

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They are working for the Healthy Athletes, an important programme within Special Olympics International, conducted in the Town located in northern Shanghai’s Jiangwan Stadium.

The programme was developed in 1996 and designed to help Special Olympics athletes improve their health and fitness, leading to enhanced sports experience and improved well-being.

“Over 40 percent among the Special Olympics athletes have teeth problems, with some of them in an urgent situation,” said Steven Perlman, founder of the Special Smiles, an integral part of Healthy Athletes. “Due to their poor physical conditions, they are prone to a variety of diseases.”

“But it is hard for them to get access to the treatments, as doctors don’t want to take care of them. A large number of the athletes even don’t know how to brush their teeth.”

At the Special Smiles area, athletes can check in, have their teeth screened, obtain a “mouth guard”, receive education on oral hygiene, and leave with souvenirs such as toothpaste and toothbrush.

The athletes will be encouraged to receive these health assessments which span across six areas in the Town, namely Fit Feet, Fun Fitness, Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion, Opening Eyes and Special Smiles.

“The programme is well-designed and fit for the athletes with intellectual disabilities,” said He Naiyao, chief medical officer of Beijing-based China Rehabilitation Research Centre. “Each athlete can receive a health report including suggestions.”

“It tells you how to improve the health through sports and nutrition,” added the doctor, who was sent to Shanghai for the programme with a contingent of medical professionals.

Besides the specialists, the volunteers are also available everywhere and help ensure those athletes with intellectual disabilities receive these screenings in a welcoming, fun environment.

As a Special Olympics volunteer, Belgian dentist and medical professor with the Ghent University, Luc Marks rated the programme as “imperative”, not only in providing the check-ups for those athletes who have less access to health care, but also in capturing helpful data for further studies or government policy-making.

“We have a Healthy Athletes Software system, a web-based application, and all the data we collect will enter this system.

“The data gathered here are important for planning, programmes, gaining support, improving policies and research.”

At the Shanghai Special Olympics, Healthy Athletes is being conducted over the whole course of the Oct 2-11 Games.

According to the data released by the Special Olympics International, the programme has been developing fast in the world and 600 screening events took place last year, with nearly 135,000 athletes being screened at least once.