What many ordinary people in Tanzania and elsewhere will likely be unaware of is that today (March 21) is World Down Syndrome Day - and ought to be marked as such.
This is a day humankind is expected to identify with people living with the chromosomal disorder, which is characterised by delays in the way a child develops physically and mentally.
Down Syndrome International (DSi), the UK-based federation of DS organisations, is this year collaborating with the United Nations and various groups in 68 countries in mobilising support and understanding for people with the condition partly through a Global Video Event known as ‘Let Us In - I Want To Learn!’
Members of the international charity are individuals and organisations from all over the world, all committed to ensuring quality of life and human rights for all people living with DS.
Among them are people living with the condition, parents, family members and friends, caregivers, professionals, practitioners, researchers, organisations and people simply interested in DS.
Health experts say DS is a life-long genetic condition from conception and affects some seven million people worldwide adding that those affected will have some degree of learning disability but many will go on to lead full and semi-independent lives.
DSi patrons meanwhile say it is important for the world to get involved in the Day to help create a single global voice championing the rights, inclusion and well being of people living with DS.
They add that the Day is marked mainly to promote awareness and understanding and seek international support with which to achieve dignity, equal rights and a better life for people with the condition everywhere.
The patrons are convinced that activities and events held on the Day can have a tremendous impact by showcasing the abilities, talents and accomplishments of those affected by DS.
It is also noted that, following a formal resolution, this year the UN is observing the Day for the first time ever.
This is proof that much is being done to mitigate the impact of DS on those living with the condition, their families and the larger communities in which they live and are cared for.
We have suggested that few people in our country will be familiar with DS and the commemoration of WDSD. But we are told that a Tanzanian charity known as Penny Aika Down Syndrome Foundation has carried out a range of activities in the last few months.
The activities were overseen by the project’s coordinator, Ralph Godden, assisted by a local colleague, and included interviewing special needs educators, social workers and health professionals around Dar es Salaam on what could be done to improve the lives of the people affected by DS and those caring for them.
The charity also filmed Tanzanian scenes of DSi’s new video ‘Let us in - I want to learn’ – and has been publishing videos and blog articles on its website, all educating Tanzanians about DS and advocating the integration of people living with disabilities in Tanzanian society.
These are laudable efforts that would trigger faster, bigger and more meaningful changes in the lives of those targeted if complemented by public support. We must take action now.