WHO Southeast Asia members pledge inclusive approach for autism

Thimphu, April 21 (IANS) Accelerating efforts to enable people with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders to lead a productive life, countries in WHO Southeast Asia Region on Friday adopted the ‘Thimphu Declaration which calls for integrating the needs of such individuals and their families into national health and socioeconomic development plans.

The Declaration, adopted at the end of the three-day International Conference on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders here, emphasizes the need for a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach to these issues, with specific attention to 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), a media statement said.

The Declaration welcomed WHO Southeast 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.

“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,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO Southeast Asia, said.

The Thimphu Declaration, a collaborative effort of countries in the Region, was facilitated by the existing collaborative framework for autism in Southeast Asia.

Government at all levels – national, state and local – should work with civil society, including academia, professionals and non-government organizations, 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 to promote social inclusiveness and remove stigma, which are major challenges that individuals and their families face.

The conference witnessed high-level representation at the inaugural with the Queen of Bhutan – who is also the Royal Patron of Ability Bhutan Society – gracing the occasion, as well as Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, highlighting the need for focused and concerted efforts to address ASD and NDDs.

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

The Conference, attended by policymakers, academics, professionals, practitioners, advocates and civil society organizations from the 11 Member countries of WHO South-East Asia Region and beyond, discussed community based services, inclusive education programs, employment opportunities, trainings and rights; and supported independent living in the community.

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, it said.

–IANS

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