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Down syndrome in India: A reflection

Little girl blowing dandelion. Down syndrome in India illustration.
Image credit: Denys Kuvaiev / 123rf

More than 30,000 people are born with Down syndrome in India every year – many of whom must grapple with social stigma and discrimination. 

Today marks World Down syndrome Day, an opportunity to address this prejudice head-on. As previously reported by Health Issues India, “individuals with Down syndrome often face discrimination in India, with common perceptions of them being severely intellectually disabled. Awareness movements are aiming to change this view…[trying] to curb the idea that Down syndrome individuals are incapable of holding jobs or fitting in with society.” Last year, we highlighted the achievements of a number of individuals with Down syndrome in India ranging from entrepreneur Aditi Verma to swimming champion Arti Krishnamoorthy. 

“Down syndrome…is one of the most common genetic birth disorders,” explains the Down Syndrome Federation of India. “Normally, each cell in the human body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, which contain the genetic material that determines all our inherited characteristics. We receive half of each chromosome pair from our mother and the other half from our father. Individuals with Down syndrome have an extra 21st chromosome. 

“Down syndrome occurs in approximately one of 830 live births. It is associated with mild to moderate learning disabilities, developmental delays, characteristic facial features, and low muscle tone in early infancy. Many individuals with Down syndrome also have heart defects, leukemia, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, gastro-intestinal problems, and other health issues. Through a series of screenings and tests, Down syndrome can be detected before and after a baby is born.”

Fortunately, life expectancy for individuals with Down syndrome has increased. As the Federation notes, “a person with Down syndrome in good health will on average live to age 55 or beyond.” Yet more needs to be done for those living with Down syndrome in India to avert prejudice, to provide access to screening, and to guarantee that the right care and support can be availed. World Down syndrome Day ought to reassert these truths and to be an opportunity for all individuals to rally against the stigma and exclusionary attitudes that can occlude the path to these goals.

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