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Addressing Autism in Africa

Content by: South-South News

6 December 2016, New York, USA | South-South News — A symposium on “Autism in Africa: Life Saving Awareness Implementing the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” was held at UN Headquarters on December 6.

“Autistic children and their families in Africa face various challenges, including high levels of poverty, social exclusion, and stigma,” said Ambassador Mwaba P. Kasese-Bota of Zambia, “Medical facilities do not adequately address ASD due to limited knowledge and competences for the correct diagnoses of the spectrum, as well as corrective and rehabilitation measures are in place.” She called the 2030 Development Agenda “a good premise … which is a universal and inclusive global blueprint with the fundamental principle of leaving no one behind.”

Kasese-Bota, added that “the onus is completely on all of us here to ensure that we are the voice for the voiceless… They should not just be statistics that we keep talking about, we need to bring them out to ensure that they are not left behind by 2030 by ensuring that the entire global community rally behind providing services for this group of children, especially in Africa where the services, including the condition itself, is almost not known.”

The Ambassador of Malawi to the UN, Necton Mhura, noted that “because it’s invisible, autistic children’s status do not appear to fit into any specific category of disability, therefore they tend to fall through the cracks.” Autistic children tend to be considered “as mentally disturbed or as victims of witchcraft or even being regarded as being possessed by demons. If there is any treatment at all that is administered, which is of doubtful impact if not downright dangerous.”

He added, “Naturally, poverty compounds the situation in my country and many countries in Africa because of the lack of support services. When you add this to the stigma of autism, it inevitably hinders parents from properly bringing up their children and giving them the appropriate treatment and attention they require.”

Ambassador, Deputy Ambassador of Kenya to the UN, Koki Muli Grignon, said, “As member states, we need to come together to break the current pattern of lack of attention and to address the challenges.” She listed four challenges: “a lack of awareness, knowledge, and expertise among the professionals, families and the communities; inadequate human and financial resources; inadequate and inappropriate policies for children with autism and other development disorders; and the lack of strong public-private partnerships for robust and effective collaboration” among government departments including social protection and health.

“We have this window of opportunity to address these challenges by ensuring that they are prioritized in the implementation of the development agenda of 2030,” she added.

The event was co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Angola, Israel, Japan, Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia.

 

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