Few years ago (in Nigeria), mere mention of Down Syndrome in infancy not only gets many parents with such children confused but sends wrong signals that all hope was lost.
The situation was compounded by the fact that many of the children in Nigeria with the condition were being locked up in their various homes to die. The parents never allowed anyone in their neighbourhood to know that there is a child with such health challenge. These children could be likened to some convicts awaiting the hangman’s noose.
They were never allowed to see the four walls of a classroom. Many of them never grew into adulthood. They died at a tender age because people with Down Syndrome may be born with a variety of defects. About half of all affected children have heart defects, digestive abnormalities, such as a blockage of the intestine, are less common, eye and dental diseases. Worse still, many of the children were seen as witches and wizards.
Nobody wanted to associate with them. The few ones that were seen around were stigmatised even in their various homes.
Today, the story is different, courtesy of the Down Syndrome Foundation of Nigeria, DSFN. In the last decade, DSFN has consistently embarked on massive awareness campaigns on Down Syndrome in the country. The Foundation which began in a sitting room apartment has been able to break into the walls of so many homes of children with the disorder. Currently, the Foundation caters for over 50 children.
Milestones achieved by the Foundation were last week reeled out by President of the Foundation, Mrs Rose Mordi during its 2011 Awareness Week/ Award night/Fund-raising dinner to mark its 10th year Anniversary.
Mordi said it had been a success story as the Foundation had been able to make impact in families and the society at large.
At the well- attended gala night to raise funds for the proposed Down Syndrome Foundation Resources Centre in Ikorodu area of Lagos, valued Mordi stressed the need to accept these children instead of stigmatising for no reason of theirs.
She called for more awareness so that people in the rural areas can bring their children out for necessary medical and educational attention they deserved.
She said: “Our mission is that in the next 10 years, we would have some of this our children who will stand up to be counted among citizens of this country who has contributed their own share to the development of this country.”
She regretted the fact that many of these children do not grow old in Nigeria due to lack of care.
“There are certain things that can keep these children alive, which include early medical intervention, education, vocational training and early social integration.
If these are not put together, a lot of them might not be able to live, because their condition predisposes them to a lot of medical issue which if not corrected they could die very young. So when the medical issue have been taken care of, there is no reason why they will not leave long.
Speaking on their challenges, Mordi disclosed that there is need for more awareness so that people in the rural area can bring their children out for necessary attention that they deserve.
Calling on Governments, corporate organisations to support, she said “we are dire need of funds to put in place a befitting structure because these children need a specialised equipment and appliances both in medical, educational and vocational training, in which we cannot do it alone. It cost a lot to take care of them that is why they are called children with special needs.
Former Senate President, Pius Anyim Pius who was said to have paid the first rent of the Foundation and also one of the awardees commended DSFN for the feat achieved, enjoining Nigerians to support the Foundation.
Representative of the Wife of the President, and Wife of the Minister of Health, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, Mrs Osinachi Chukwu noted that the health challenge is here in Nigeria regretted that the problem was initially attached to witchcraft.
She said with early childhood intervention, proper medical care, the quality of life of the children will improve significantly to live a normal life.
High point of the event was presentation of the resource centre, a purpose-built multi-function, educational and child development facility, set over 4,000 Square metres at Mowo _Nla village, off Ijede Road Ikorodu.
Fourteen people and organisations including Vanguard Health Correspondent, Mrs. Chioma Obinna, were awarded for outstanding contribution to the growth of the Foundation.