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Saima becomes WHO champion for autism

Saima Wazed Hossain, chairperson of Bangladesh National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, and daughter of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has been designated as ‘WHO Champion for Autism’ in South-East Asia Region.

WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia, located in New Delhi, made the announcement Saturday on the occasion of the World Autism Day observed worldwide on April 2 every year.

Announcing her name on the eve of the World Autism Awareness Day, the UN health agency said, as WHO Champion, she will be supporting its “advocacy” with 11 member-countries of the region for inclusion of the issue in national policies and strategies.

This is to promote WHO’s mental health initiatives and strengthen research and evidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD, for more focused interventions to address the suffering of children with the disorder, as well as their parents and caregivers.

The WHO introduced her as a “strong advocate” for autism.

“Ms (Saima Wazed) 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,” WHO Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said.

“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,” she said.

She hoped that Saima Wazed will play a vital role as a regional champion to garner momentum for awareness and action for autism across the region.

Mentioning that autism prevalence rates are estimated at 160 cases in a population of 10,000 or one in 62 children, Dr Khetrapal Singh also said that in the low and middle-income countries, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) don’t get medical attention and necessary care.

“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,” she added.

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 Saima Wazed.

In recognition to her work in advancing the cause of ASD, she was honored by WHO South-East Asia Regional Office with Excellence in Public Health Award in September 2014.

Saima Wazed 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.

Saima Wazed, better known by her nickname Putul, is the chairperson of Shuchona Foundation that works on mental health issues and a member of WHO’s Expert Advisory Panel on mental health. She is an US-licensed school psychologist.

She brought the neglected issue to the fore by organising a regional conference in 2011 where regional leaders, including India’s then ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi participated.

As a result of her efforts, the Neurodevelopmental Disability Protection Trust Act 2013 has been passed. The United Nations adopted several resolutions based on her proposals.

WHO also awarded her in September 2014 with ‘Excellence in Public Health Award’, noting that she had put autism on WHO’s map.

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.

She leads various national, regional and global advisory committees and networks.

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 NDDs for Organization for Global Autism Bangladesh.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste are member states of WHO South-East Asia Region.

Source: Daily Sun, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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