Wednesday, November 22, 2017

WHO South-East Asia adopts Thimphu Declaration, pledges inclusive approaches for autism

  • Senior Correspondent
    Published: 2017-04-21 18:42:37 BdST


Eleven countries, including Bangladesh, in the WHO South-East Asia Region have adopted the Thimphu Declaration for 'accelerating efforts' to enable people with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders to lead a productive life.

They have also called for integrating the needs of such individuals and their families into national health and socioeconomic development plans.

The Declaration was adopted at the end of the three-day International Conference on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders on Friday.

It emphasises a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach to address these issues.

Specific attention has been suggested for strengthening national capacities in the health, education and social care sectors to provide effective services and support to people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs).

The Declaration welcomed WHO South-East Asia Region’s strategy on autism and called for countries in the region to share experiences and best practices, with a focus on the lifespan needs of people with ASD and NDDs, the WHO said in a statement.

Bhutan's Ministry of Health, Bangladesh's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Shuchona Foundation, and WHO jointly organised the conference.

It  witnessed high-level representation at the inauguration with Bhutanese Queen Jetsun Pema, who is also the Royal Patron of Ability Bhutan Society, as well as Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina.

It highlighted the need for focused and concerted efforts to address ASD and NDDs.

WHO Champion for ASD in South-East Asia, Saima Wazed Hossain, who is also the chairperson of Shuchona Foundation, advocated for WHO’s regional strategy on ASD.

The conference was attended by policymakers, academics, professionals, practitioners, advocates and civil society organisations from the 11 member countries of WHO South-East Asia Region and beyond.

It discussed community-based services, inclusive education programmes, employment opportunities, trainings and rights; and supported independent living in the community, according to the statement.

Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders are life-long disabilities that affect brain functioning, and when left without proper support can cause significant impairment in exercising of an individual’s human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Most children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in low- and middle-income settings lead a life inside home, marred by stigma, social isolation and lack of support services. And their numbers are increasing, according to WHO.

“Inter-country cooperation and partnerships are fundamental to addressing autism in the Region. Member countries are already demonstrating how progress can be forged, providing valuable learning opportunities that must be embraced and adapted to country needs,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.

The Thimphu Declaration, a collaborative effort of countries in the region, was facilitated by the existing collaborative framework for autism in South-East Asia.

Government at all levels – national, state and local – should work with civil society, including academia, professionals and non-government organisations, as well as the private sector and media to effectively address autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, the Declaration said.

The Thimphu Declaration stressed the need for promoting social inclusiveness and remove stigma, which are major challenges that individuals and their families face.

“Barriers affecting persons with ASD must be identified and removed, and legal frameworks supporting the rights of persons with ASD, their families and caregivers must be developed,” the WHO regional director said in her speech at the conference.

“As part of this, involvement of persons affected by ASD and NDDs is vitally important, as is a commitment to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as previous Regional resolutions and declarations,” she was quoted as saying in the WHO statement.

Bhutan, North Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste are the other members of the WHO Southeast Asia Region.