India has an estimated birth rate of 19 births per 1000 population. With a total population of over 1.3 billion people this amounts to a considerable number of births: 69,070 babies were born in India on New Year’s Day alone. Due to proportionality, there are also a vast number of people born with Down’s Syndrome in India, currently estimated to be around 32,000 per year.
Individuals with Down’s Syndrome often face discrimination in India, with common perceptions of them being severely intellectually disabled. Awareness movements are aiming to change this view.
Down’s Syndrome is a genetic condition that can occur in any birth. Also called trisomy 2,1 the condition involves a third replicated copy of the 21st chromosome. There is a greater chance of Down’s Syndrome, as well as many other genetic abnormalities, occurring in births to older parents.
Research has found that the older the mother, the higher the chance for her to have reproductive cells with a third copy of chromosome 21. As such, there is a greater chance of having a child with Down’s Syndrome.
The symptoms of the disease are often pronounced and easily identifiable. As with many other genetic abnormalities, there are recognisable and consistent craniofacial abnormalities. This is accompanied by mild to severe learning difficulties.
Those with Down’s Syndrome are more prone to Alzheimer’s disease, with an age of onset common at around 40. This is opposed to around 65 in the general population. The APP gene is a commonly implicated cause of Alzheimer’s with amyloid protein deposits being one of the hallmark symptoms. The APP protein is present on chromosome 21. Having an extra copy of this gene is thought to accelerate the process by which Alzheimer’s disease develops in those with Down’s Syndrome.
Projects are being led across India to promote awareness of Down’s Syndrome. They try to curb the idea that Down’s Syndrome individuals are incapable of holding jobs or fitting in with society. “The disease is often clubbed together with mental retardation,” says Aditi Shardul of Vihang Special School. “Though it is a form of mental retardation, it is very low in severity. People with the Syndrome are cheerful and easier to deal with.”
Anusha Swamy has created the A+ Max initiative in Chennai. The aim of the project is to use social media platforms such as Instagram to sell handmade tote bags, mats and colourful candles created by individuals with Down’s Syndrome. This provides a form of work and income to some who may face discrimination in finding work.
Swamy has said that many people have come forward to buy bags and other products from the service as they see it is for a good cause. She hopes to dispel the idea that those with Down’s Syndrome are incapable, noting that many have gone on to find great success. For example a number of individuals with Down’s Syndrome have represented India at the Special Olympics.
Curbing negative views of the Down’s Syndrome community is vital in promoting their inclusion in mainstream society. With proper awareness and cooperation, many sufferers of the condition can live normal lives.
Nicholas Parry has a Bachelor of Science in genetics from the University of Sheffield and a Master of Research in neuroscience from the University of Nottingham. He has been a featured writer for Health Issues since 2016. He is based in South Wales.