Friday marks World Down Syndrome Day, giving advocates the opportunity to celebrate the lives of people with the condition, and also to push for equal treatment in every area of life.
This year, the awareness campaign is focusing its efforts on urging countries worldwide to provide adequate health care to people with Down syndrome.
People with Down syndrome typically have an increased risk for some medical conditions, including congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems and Alzheimer's disease, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. While many of these conditions are treatable, and people with Down syndrome can live long and healthy lives, they still face elements of discrimination that interfere with their treatment.
According to Down Syndrome International, people with Down syndrome are often denied or delayed access to health care. They sometimes receive incorrect diagnoses due to their physician’s lack of knowledge or inadequate training, and are often excluded from the treatment plan process and making medical decisions.
The advocates hope to impress the fact that having Down syndrome does not make a person inherently unhealthy, and that it's a genetic condition not an illness, Andrew Boys, director of Down Syndrome International, told The Huffington Post in an email.
Fifty countries came together to produce a short video expressing the universal need for equal access to health care for people with Down syndrome. The video underscores just how widespread the medical discrimination is.
Back in 2012, a family sued a hospital in Kent, England, because a doctor placed a "do not resuscitate" order on a patient with Down syndrome, the Guardian reported.
The unnamed family said that that the doctor didn’t inform them of his decision. The physician listed a number of reasons, according to the family’s lawyer, which included "Down syndrome," "bedbound" and "learning difficulties," the paper reported.
"Health professionals should not discriminate against people with Down syndrome by either refusing to treat them, blaming health issues on Down syndrome in general, or considering only specific known health issues which may affect people with Down syndrome," Boys said.
To make sure that people with Down syndrome get the care they need and are treated with dignity, the World Down Syndrome Day Conference was held at the United Nations in New York on Friday to advocate for better health care.
The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon also addressed the awareness event, echoing the sentiments of the campaign.
"Too often, persons with disabilities -- including those with Down syndrome -- face stigma, discrimination and exclusion," he said in a statement. "The lack of full and equal participation of those with Down syndrome affects not only individuals and their families, but society at large."
Find out how you can get involved with speaking out for the rights of people with Down syndrome at World Down Syndrome Day here.