THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 19, 2017 (BSS)-Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina here today called upon all countries of the world to adopt effective policies and programmes for persons with disabilities including autism to enable them to live life with dignity and hope in the inclusive society.
“Let’s commit ourselves to recognizing their multi-faceted talents beyond the diagnosis of the disorder and enable them to live life with dignity and hope in our inclusive society,” the prime minister said while inaugurating an international conference on autism here this morning as the guest of honour.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Bangladesh and the Ministry of Health of Bhutan are jointly organizing the three-day “International Conference on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders” at the Royal Banquet Hall with the technical support of Shuchona Foundation (previously known as Global Autism), Ability Bhutan Society (ABS), and World Health Organization South-East Asia Regional Office.
The theme of the conference is “Developing effective and sustainable multi-sectorial programs for individuals, families and communities living with ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.”
Bhutanese Prime Minister Dshao Tshering Tobgay also spoke at the inaugural session.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, World Health Organization Regional Director for Southeast Asia, was present at the function as the special guest, while Health Minister of Bhutan Lyonpo Tandin Wangchukk delivered the welcome address.
Parent speaker of the session was Chimmi Lhaden, while Dr Yolanda Liliyana Maya Ortega, founder and executive director of Centro Ann Sulivan del Peru, made a special presentation on “The power of two: families and professionals working as partners for children with autism to become independent, productive and happy”.
Bhutanese Queen Jetsun Pema and Chairperson of Suchana Foundation and Chairperson of Bangladesh National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Saima Wazed Hossain were present on the occasion.
The inaugural session of the conference kicked off with traditional Marchang ceremony of Bhutan.
The prime minister said it’s necessary for countries to support their most vulnerable citizens and the governments should make policies and programmes to ensure that no individual is neglected.
Sheikh Hasina said they deserve to have the opportunity to participate in their country’s economic growth. “It is our responsibility to ensure that an adequate social and medical support is available for these individuals in all aspects of their lives, from education to employment.”
In recent years, she said, global awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has underscored the need for the development of a strategically planned and systematic approach, particularly for regions and countries with financial and technical limitations.
“Despite our commitments, there are no established guidelines or models to assist them,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said programmes requiring linkages between existing infrastructures with inter and intra-disciplinary collaboration are a challenge for all countries.
“Without a systematic framework designed according to current scientific research on autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, service delivery models cannot be effective, financially feasible, or sustainable in the long run,” she said.
Moreover, she said, there is a significant shortage of reliable data, culturally sensitive, evidence-based intervention programmes, and supervision of existing programmes and services. “Sometimes, even well standardized programmes remain inaccessible to families living outside major urban cities and beyond their means,” she said.
The premier said the comprehensive mental health action plan 2013-2020 adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2013 articulates the urgent need to strengthen efforts to address the treatment gap for mental and neurological disorders.
“It outlines strategies and targets for actions in countries. But, financial inaccessibility and need for validation and adaptation of various tools, the scarcity of skilled health professionals, and the lack of service development, hamper our efforts both financially and ethically, in particular in resource-poor settings,” she said.
The premier said she is really honoured to inaugurate such an important conference and also feel encouraged to see so many great clinicians, researchers and policymakers convened together for the betterment of individuals and families with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Neuro-Developmental Disorders (NDDs).
“No matter where on the spectrum they are, they all deserve to live in dignity and be loved by people around them,” she said. Sheikh Hasina said since its clinical recognition as a developmental disorder in 1944, ASD continues to be a significant health issue around the world till today. WHO epidemiological data estimates the global prevalence of ASDs to be one in 160.
Based on studies conducted over the past 50 years, she said, ASD can be termed as the fastest growing serious developmental disability. This warrants us to look at the core issues related to ASD comprehensively: First, we need to recognize that children with ASD and other NDDs need specific educational intervention. It is of utmost importance to create education systems that would cater to their different and unique learning needs while ensuring access by them to general education systems.
Second, in light of the main ‘Mantra’ of the 2030 SDGs- ‘leaving no one behind’- persons with disabilities are included, in Goals 3, 4, 8, 11 and 17. We all are committed “To promoting physical and mental health and well-being” for all. Subsequently, the UN members have recognized this as a major challenge for sustainable development.
Third, the issue of ASD and NDD also impacts national economy as 80% of adults with ASD can remain unemployed. Creating appropriate employment for people with autism/NDDs in line with SDG target 8.5, therefore, is a sine qua non for development.
Moreover, she said, worldwide, people and families with ASD are often subject to stigma, discrimination and human rights violations. Very recently, two UN human rights experts called for an end to this discrimination and said that persons with ASD should be embraced, celebrated and respected as part of human diversity.
The prime minister said incorporating disability and autism into the mainstream national developmental agenda is one of the priority areas of her government. “We have integrated it in the National 7th Five Year Plan for 2016-2021,” she said.
For the first time, she said, the nation-wide census has included information on persons living with disabilities including autism. “We have taken a number of legislative, social and medical initiatives to address the issue of autism,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said an 8-member “Advisory Committee on Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders” headed by Saima Wazed Hossain helps the national steering committee develop priorities, design programmes, devise implementation strategies, identify necessary resources and provide guidance on the appropriate use of those resources.
“Regionally, we played a crucial lead role in the formation of South Asian Autism Network (SAAN) and its Charter,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said on 25th July 2011, Bangladesh hosted the largest international conference on autism that has ever been held for a single psychological disability, which adopted the Dhaka Declaration on Autism Spectrum Disorders. The conference marked the official launching of Global Autism Public Health Initiative (GAPH), she said.
The premier said Bangladesh has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “We have tabled Resolution “A/RES/67/82″, on persons affected by autism spectrum disorders, developmental disorders and associated disabilities at the UNGA in 2013,” she said.
She said her government is working with the WHO/SEARO to provide a template for a global strategy to address ASD and other NDDs. This framework encourages the member states to share their research, practices, and resources.
Sheikh Hasina said it is noteworthy that the government’s initiatives and leading role in the field of ASD could not have been generated without the relentless efforts of Saima Wazed Hossain. Saima has not only raised awareness, but her efforts have contributed significantly to life-changing experiences for many, she said.
In Bangladesh, she said, Saima has been instrumental in getting recognition for ASD as a disorder and not a curse, as was often believed by many. Her work in this area has been recognized by WHO through her appointment as a member of World Health Organization’s 25-member Expert Advisory Panel on mental health, she said.
Wishing the success of the conference, the prime minister hoped that the participants, over the next couple of days, will deliberate on the core and critical issues to make a difference in the lives of people with ASD.
The Bhutanese prime minister greeted the people of Bangladesh on the occasion of Bangla Nababarsha and said the hosting of the conference is a “wonderful coincidence” in the Autism Awareness Month.
He thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for attending the conference despite her busy schedule and acknowledged Bangladesh’s leading role in creating awareness about autism worldwide under her leadership.
Tshering Tobgay also praised the instrumental role of Saima Wazed Hossain in building awareness about autism and congratulated her on being designated as ‘WHO Champion for Autism’ in South-East Asia Region.