In a special health awareness session held at the Aga Khan University, a panel of child health experts spoke about children with Down Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects one in every 800 children. The session also featured an exhibit of artwork created by Madiha Hussain, a girl with Down syndrome who overcame her condition and now works as an art teacher in a regular school. Sharing her belief that children like Madiha can achieve whatever they desire, her mother said, “these children have special needs but there is no reason why they should not grow up to be productive members of society.” The exhibition was inaugurated by Professor Gaffar Billoo, a renowned paediatrician.
Down Syndrome is caused by chromosomes (cells which carry genetic information) to arrange in the wrong order at the time the of conception, and eventually leads to varying degrees of physical and learning impairments.
“While there is a strong link with increased maternal age, even young mothers can have children with the syndrome,” said Dr Khadija Humayun, Assistant Professor, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, in her introductory remarks.
“Children with DS have poor muscle tone and are slow to learn to turn over, sit, stand and walk,” Dr Humayun added, “but while it may take them longer to reach normal developmental milestones, they will eventually meet them.”
Also speaking at the event was Professor Shahnaz Ibrahim, Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, one of Pakistan’s few paediatric neurologists. “Language and speech delays aside, children with DS have short attention spans, poor judgment and often act impulsively. Parents need to be on constant alert regarding their safety,” she commented.
However, all child health experts were unanimous in their opinion that with appropriate support and treatment, DS children can lead happy, productive lives.
“In the West, life expectancy for people with DS has increased dramatically from 25 years in 1983 to 60 years today. In Pakistan, we can replicate their success,” said Professor Mehnaz Atiq, paediatric cardiologist.
“Almost 50 per cent of babies with DS are born with heart problems. Some heart defects are minor and may be treated with medication, but others require immediate surgery,” she added, “but surgery in DS is equally successful as in children without DS.”
In the end, she concluded that to care for such special children, “a team effort involving parents, school teachers as well as healthcare providers is needed.”