When one looks at the impact of Down syndrome in all of Africa, Sierra Leone records the highest mortality rate from Down syndrome with 3.8 per 100,000 people in 2013. Despite this fact, it is evident that a majority of communities in Sierra Leone neglect or simply lack knowledge about the disease, which contributes to the mortality rate of the country.
Down syndrome is a disease that occurs when an individual has additional genetic material on chromosome 21. The typical characteristics of a child diagnosed with Down syndrome includes impairments in both cognitive and physical ability.
In Sierra Leone, the phrase “the devil child” is used to label children with this disease. The recent story covered by Al Jazeera on Aminatta and her son Thomas, who suffers from Down syndrome, was touching and exhibits the need for education in Sierra Leone.
This condition is rarely diagnosed because the majority of communities in Sierra Leone do not even know it is a disease. Therefore, the gaps in knowledge are filled with cultural beliefs and black magic rituals are performed to make the “demonic” child disappear.
The key factor in changing the lives of these affected children and their parents is education.
The easiest and most effective way to tackle this problem is to try and create awareness about the disease in order to dispel the blanket of ignorance that covers these communities in Sierra Leone.
This is vital to encouraging most of these parents to seek medical counsel in order to understand the disease.
The government of Sierra Leone should provide ways to make lives for such parents simpler and avoid the inhumane treatment that often develops toward their children.
Affordable health care, for example, will encourage parents to take their children for regular doctor appointments. This way parents are able to take care of their children safely with doctor instructions and receive a better understanding of what is needed of them as parents.
Building programs that will be able to support these parents and give them the right health care for these children will assist the country in moving a step closer to eradicating the cultural rituals that allow the discrimination of these helpless children.
Giving birth to a child who has Down syndrome is not easy because it is a lifelong commitment that may leave a parent in distress simply because they do not quite understand how they are to take care of a child who will be helpless for the rest of his or her life.
A child is a gift, and if you are to give your child a gift, let it be a long healthy life no matter the circumstance they are in.