Two volunteers checking the sight of an athlete during one of the medical tests in Graz, Austria. (Photo: Pablo M Dorado)

by Pablo Martinez Dorado, AIPS Young Reporter, Spain

Sometimes, when athletes are competing in major events such as the Special Olympics, basics such as proper medical treatment in their home countries are taken for granted.

However, this can be a difficult challenge in areas where incomes are modest or visiting a doctor regularly is not a priority.

More than 200m people worldwide have an intellectual disability and many of them do not have access to an appropriate healthcare.

To try to solve that a Special Olympics Healthy Athletes programme has offered free health care at its World Games for the last 20 years with the help of the Golisano Foundation.

Margot Rhondeau, director of Healthy Athletes, said:

“Diagnostic overshadow is just an assumption that people make. They think that athletes are not responding well in a team simply because of their intellectual disabilities. Nobody thinks that they can’t hear or see.

“We are in charge of detecting things that nobody sees and sorting them out.”

Around 150,000 health care professionals have conducted more than 1.7m health examinations in more than 107 countries. Only this week for the Special Olympics in Austria more than 800 volunteers will undertake health tests on all the athletes that decide to attend the Health Venue.

Rhondeau added:

“We have volunteers from all over the world but most of the volunteers are Austrian. The local university has even shut down the classes this week to let them participate in this experience.”

Healthy Athletes is divided into eight disciplines: fit feet (focused on podiatry), funfitness (physical therapy), health promotion (healthy lifestyle through health education), strong minds (help with daily issues and dealing with stressful situations), healthy hearing (audition issues), opening eyes (vision problems), special smiles (dentistry) and medfest (sports physical exams for athlete registration).

Rhondeau said:

“In every discipline there is a clinic director in charge or recruiting volunteers. Each of them is specialised in this or her own field and has completed a training programme in order to treat the athletes in the best way.”

This is not the end of the health journey. Healthy Athletes is already giving them a proper treatment this week and then, all athletes will be conducted to subsidiary Health Communities in their own countries to maintain health care back home.

​ Follow Pablo on Twitter @pablo41419

The Young Reporters Programme has been made possible thanks to the support of the European Union’s Erasmus + programme