April 7 is World Health Day, as declared by the World Health Organization, but the health of Special Olympics athletes and others with intellectual disabilities is the focus of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program every day. Every year, Healthy Athletes conducts nearly 1000 events and provides more than 170,000 free health screenings for athletes.
Healthy Athletes is a critical program. Popular belief says that people with intellectual disabilities receive the same or better health care than others, but the truth is that this population often receives substandard care, or no care at all in many parts of the world.
Globally, Special Olympics athletes are at greater risk for multiple health conditions:
- 39% have untreated tooth decay.
- 29% have missing teeth.
- 26% fail basic hearing tests.
- 20% have low bone density.
- 16% have eye disease.
But Healthy Athletes is making a difference for athletes like Chin Hua Liu, whose closed-angle glaucoma was detected at Healthy Athletes, saving him from permanent blindness, and Katherine Scholtz from Kentucky, who underwent surgery to repair two holes in her heart after they were found during her three-year physical for Special Olympics.