MedicAlert bracelets free for all elementary students

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medicalert braceletTORONTO -- Elementary school students with serious medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or severe allergies will have access to a free alert bracelet under a national program being launched on Monday.

Called "No Child Without," the new program run by the Canadian MedicAlert Foundation waives the fees normally associated with subscribing to the service and buying the special bracelet or necklet.

"Parents worry a great deal about how their child will communicate their medical condition in a crisis," Martin Kabat, president of the charitable foundation, said in a statement.

"(We want to give) every student in every school the full protection of MedicAlert (and) our mission is to deliver this free to all these students."

With MedicAlert, people with potentially dangerous medical conditions provide relevant information to a central registry.

Members wear a readily identifiable bracelet or medallion that is engraved with that information along with an ID number and a 24-hour emergency hotline number.

In the event the person is incapacitated, such as when a bee sting or exposure to peanuts leads to shock or unconsciousness, a caregiver can call the hotline for the details on the condition or required treatment.

"Children with medical conditions are at risk whenever they leave their home," Kabat noted.

Normally, it costs a minimum $50 to sign up for the MedicAlert service and $39 a year to renew, while the customized bracelets or necklets cost at least $35.

A pilot program launched in January is in place in 60 schools in five provinces -- Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

However, the Toronto-based organization said more than 400 schools have indicated they want to join. The aim is to reach to all 10,000 elementary schools in Canada over the next five years.

Among those expected to attend Monday's formal launch at a public school in Toronto coinciding with National Child Day was Jim Watson, minister of health promotion in Ontario.

"This initiative will make a positive difference in the lives of the families who rely on the MedicAlert bracelet," Watson said in a release prepared for the event.

MedicAlerts can be invaluable when people with medical conditions are in car crashes. Also, allergic reactions or asthma can be life-threatening if not treated promptly or are misdiagnosed.

"Precious time is too often lost tracking down vital medical information," said Dr. Bruce Minnes, associate director of pediatric emergency medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children.

MedicAlert is a registered charity with more than one million Canadian members. It has operated for more than 45 years.

Parents interested in the program can obtain more information from the foundation's website, www.medicalert.ca and can contact their school principal to urge participation.

© Canadian Press 2006