Posted on March 19, 2018

Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is improving the lives of children with Down syndrome by providing access to specialist therapeutic and educational resources through its Early Intervention Program at the Child Development Center and Therapy Services, Rumailah Hospital.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of all, or a partial extra copy of, chromosome 21. The condition, which is the most common chromosome abnormality, is typically associated with characteristic physical features, some health and developmental challenges, and some level of intellectual disability. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the incidence of Down syndrome is between 1 in 1,000 live births worldwide. Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 children worldwide are born with Down syndrome each year.

Child Development and Rehabilitation Service specialists at HMC’s Child Development Center and Therapy Services say early intervention and rehabilitation are key to helping children with the condition thrive. Currently, there are 73 children with Down syndrome under the age of three receiving care through the Early Intervention Program. Each year, the program receives between 40 to 50 new referrals. While individuals with Down syndrome are more likely to have certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, hearing and vision problems, and gastrointestinal issues, many of these conditions are now treatable. Today, most individuals with Down syndrome lead healthy lives, enjoying a higher life expectancy than ever before.

Speaking about the condition, Dr. Sona Fayed Tahtamouni, Pediatric Consultant, Child Development Center and Therapy Services, explained: “Children with Down syndrome nearly always have physical and intellectual disabilities. Therefore, they generally reach developmental milestones at a later age. These children have an increased risk of certain health problems, including congenital heart defects, epilepsy, leukemia, thyroid diseases, and hearing and vision disorders. They may also have a weak immune function. Regular screening for health problems common in people with Down syndrome is recommended throughout the individual's life.”

Dr. Tahtamouni maintained that the quality of life for individuals with Down syndrome can be improved by meeting their healthcare needs and stressed the importance of early intervention programs. “Children with Down Syndrome can lead a normal life if their parents and caregivers ensure their healthcare needs are met. For example, by having regular check-ups with health professionals to monitor their mental and physical health and providing timely intervention with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, counseling or special education when required,” she said.

Parents of two-year-old Layanne Fahmi, one of the children currently receiving care at HMC’s Child Development Center and Therapy Services, say they appreciate the benefits of early intervention programs. “We are glad that our daughter is being cared for by a team of experts who are not only caring but empathetic toward us. Layanne is presently undergoing rehabilitation services, including occupational, physical, and speech therapies, as well as special education services at the Center. Due to this intervention, we as her parents are empowered to tackle the daily challenge of caring for our daughter. This intervention program has helped us as a family and fills us with hope for our daughter’s future. We can see how much of an impact HMC’s Early Intervention Program has had on her.”

To highlight World Down Syndrome Day, observed globally on 21 March, HMC is organizing a family day for patients and their families at Bayt Al Dhiyafah in Hamad Bin Khalifa Medical City from 10am to 3pm. Awareness events are also planned from 8am to 12pm across the main lobbies of Women’s Hospital, Hamad General Hospital, Rumailah Hospital, Al Khor Hospital, Qatar Rehabilitation Institute, and the Women’s Wellness and Research Center. The Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics will also participate, providing gifts to children.

“Children and their families will be treated to a number of entertainment activities during the event while parents will also have the opportunity to meet and share their experiences. At the awareness booths, hospital visitors will learn about Down syndrome and receive educational leaflets highlighting the condition,” added Ms. Fatmeh Mustafa, Assistant Director, Pediatric Rehabilitation, Child Development Center and Therapy Services.