Down Syndrome International has confirmed March 21 as World Down Syndrome Day, to celebrate those fighting for the inclusion of their loved ones who are living with the illness.
Down Syndrome (DS) is a chromosomal disorder arising at the time of conception.
Mpumalanga-based medical practitioner Dr Midah Maluleka says: "There is an extra number 21 chromosome (Trisomy 21) which causes delays in physical and intellectual development. There’s no definite cause for this extra chromosome. It has been proven to have no relation to age, socio-economic status, race or religion. It is also not hereditary."
Maluleka adds that DS is the most common chromosomal disorder in new-borns. "One in 1 000 babies born in first world countries with one in 650 babies born in developing countries, like ours, are affected. At least 80% of children affected by DS are born from mothers under the age of 35, despite women over the age of 35 being deemed to be at higher risk of having a child with DS."
She says because the disorder can be picked up at conception, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for. "In the early stages of pregnancy, a 12- 13 week ultrasound scan is advised.
This accurately measures the thickness of fluid behind the baby's neck, called the nuchal translucency. This is often larger in babies with DS.
Another prenatal test is an amniocentesis. This is when small amounts of amniotic fluid is collected and sent for chromosome analysis. This test is about 98% accurate for diagnosis."
Maluleka says that children with DS are able to live full, healthy and long lives.
“Although there’s no cure, people with DS benefit from loving homes, appropriate medical care, early intervention, educational and vocational services. Due to advanced medical care, most people born with DS today have a life expectancy of approximately 55 years. People with DS have the same emotions and needs as any other person and deserve the same opportunities and care," says Maluleka.
North West-based teacher Tshepo Kekana says, "Not all special needs students need to go to remedial and special schools. There are a few who cope in mainstream schools. With continued learning, support and patience, the students can flourish.”