Health Desk-- 1 April, 2017: World Health Organization South-East Asia Region has designated Saima Wazed Hossain, a strong advocate for autism, as its champion to enhance commitment and generate awareness and action to address the suffering of children with autism spectrum disorder, as well as their parents and caregivers.
“Ms Hossain’s dedicated and unprecedented efforts have put autism high on the health agenda in her country Bangladesh, and helped get substantial regional and global attention to autism spectrum disorder and other mental and neurodevelopmental disorders. Her support as Regional Champion is expected to garner momentum for awareness and action in member countries, as much remains to be done for autism in across the Region,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said on the occasion of World Autism Day observed on 2 April every year.
Globally, autism prevalence rates are estimated at 160 cases in a population of 10 000, or one in 62 children. Data from high resource countries show that the estimated lifetime costs of caring for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) lie between USD 1.4 million and USD 2.4 million per case according to the level of intellectual impairment.
In the low-and middle-income countries, children with ASD do not get the medical attention and care they need. Their life is a struggle, often marred by stigma, marginalization and discrimination. Autism continues to be a public health challenge which needs to be addressed with more focused efforts, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
WHO has been advocating for political commitment to the needs and services for ASD, scaling-up resources and raising public awareness to facilitate early detection, community based intervention and multisectoral approach to reduce the impact of ASD.
Among the Region’s 11 countries, Bangladesh has made focused interventions for autism and much of the pioneering work has been initiated by Ms Hossain. The Ministry of Health has integrated mental health care into primary health care. Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neuro-developmental-related disorders have been integrated in the Health, Population and Nutrition Sector Development Programme. An Institute of Neuro-development and Autism has been established, while 10 medical colleges have a special wing to screen childhood disability.
In recognition of her work in advancing the cause of ASD in Bangladesh, Ms Hossain was honoured by WHO South-East Asia Regional Office with Excellence in Public Health Award in September 2014.
She has made important contributions to the Regional and global efforts on ASD in her various roles and capacities. She launched the South-East Asia Autism Network in July 2011 and is a member of WHO’s global Expert Advisory Panel on Mental Health.
Hossain leads various national, regional and global advisory committees and networks. She is the chair of Global Autism Public Health Initiative, Bangladesh, and National Advisory Committee on Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Autism. She is the founding member of the Mental Health Accessibility Task Force of the Ontario Psychological Association, Toronto, and an international advocate for autism and neurodevelopmental disorders for Organization for Global Autism Bangladesh.
As WHO Champion, Ms Hossain will be supporting WHO's advocacy with member countries for inclusion of ASD in national policies and strategies, promoting WHO’s mental health initiatives and strengthening research and evidence of ASD for more focused interventions.