The result of 10 years hard work

Case: approach and results of Lions Belgium MD112 over the past 12 years.

During the annual edition of the National Games of Special Olympics, there is an additional program which is free for all athletes: the Healthy Athletes Program (HAP).
With this program, athletes have the opportunity to get a free medical check-up in 7 domains:
Fit Feet, Fun Fitness, Health Promotion, Healthy Body, Healthy Hearing, Opening Eyes, and Special Smiles. (

Each domain has his own Clinical Director.  Two of our Belgian Clinical Directors are also Regional Clinical Advisor for the region Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. One of our Belgian Clinical Director is a Global Clinical Advisor, giving advice on a global level.

Gathering historical data:
Because Lions Belgium MD112 has been supporting this program with logistics support over the past 12 years, it was possible to gather some historical data on the health of the athletes.

Some breef conclusions:
  • Nearly an average of 30% of the athletes are advised to consult a doctor for further investigation.
  • Nearly an average of 30% of the athletes are offered a first aid intervention.

After 10 years of hard work:
A few weeks ago, there was a whole day conference, including a round table, in corporation  with RIZIV (the Belgian Governmental institute which is responsible for the refund of medical costs towards the patient and the medical and paramedical specialists/hospital).  

This conference was joined by each Medical director (responsible for his respective ‘program’), several representatives of the mayor Health Insurance companies, and representatives of the Ministry of Health.

Conclusion of the round table:
  • There is a lack in the education program for medical and paramedical professions. They need to get more often in contact with people with a intellectual disability so they can learn how to deal and communicate with people with a intellectual disability.
  • The system to refund medical costs for people with a mental disability is insufficient. Small adjustments could make a ‘world of difference’.
The CEO of RIZIV concluded the round table meeting by announcing he will set up a task force to put the necessary change in motion.

Why do these people need extra attention?
People with a intellectual disability seem to face a difficulty in communication.  Where others can express pain easily and feel that ‘something is wrong’ in/with our body (or a part of it), these people do not always make this connection and accept (in spite of everything) the situation as ‘normal’.  
Secondly, some health issues appear more to people with a intellectual disability comparing to a ‘regular’ population.

Some Examples:
  • Ears: in the ears of more than 25% of the athletes, objects are found which do not belong there (pats of a pencil, rubbers of earphones,…).
    Although the ear was infected (completely red on the inside), the athlete did not complain.  Even during the removal of the object: they did not make a sound, but, on the contrary, smiled.
  • Feet: after the measurement of the size of the feet, it is not an exception that the shoes of the athlete are nearly one inch to small!
  • Eyes: 20% of the athletes were having wrong glasses.
    Note: the tests used in the Healthy Program were simplified so detection could be done in an early stage before the athlete got further examined.

The challenge:
In Belgium the running cost of this Healthy Athletes Program is 50.000 EUR.
Lions MD112 funded 25.000 EUR in the past and wants to raise this to 35.000 EUR.
The ambition is to support the full amount by 2022.

Developing New Programs : Diabetes
This year, Lions MD112 supports the development of an additional program : Diabetes.  We will be pioneers with this program. Lions will invest not only in additional volunteers, but also finance the necessary tools to examine the athletes.  For the moment there is little or no knowledge on diabetes within the group of people with an intellectual disability.

The perception Lions has in the community in Belgium:
In Belgium, service clubs like Lions are often perceived as ‘people who just give money’.
The beauty of the Health program is that besides the ‘money’, Lions clubs also provide 300 volunteers to support the logistics during the 3 days of the games.  These Lions volunteers come on top of the other 1000 volunteers who are needed to run the 7 different programs during the 3 days.

Belgium as an example:
The games in Belgium are unique in Europe (probably even in the world).  Not only because they are held every year and they last 3 full days, but also because during every edition there is a Healthy Athletes program. This is so unique that last year the President of Special Olympics Belgium was asked to inform their Global Headquarters about the way things are organized in Belgium re the Healthy Athletes Program.

What is the impact?
Belgium has a population of 11.000.000 people. There are 165.000 people with a intellectual disability (nearly 1.5%).  By continuing to support this program in the coming 10 years, we can state that, thanks to the persistence of Lions, there will be 165.000 people who will benefit in the future from a better medical support, better educated doctors and more adequate financial support (insurance).

The next steps:
It is our conviction that this program should be one of the focus programs for Lions International.
Supporting the ‘Opening Eyes’ program was for Lions Belgium a nice way to start and to get involved into the Healthy Athletes program.
Therefore we kindly ask to take the next step with a formal support from LCIF by:
  • Empowering Lions to embrace also the other HAP disciplines (besides ‘Opening Eyes’)
  • Providing substantial funding for all the countries which are involved in the program
  • and consequently make a more significant impact in our society.