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Bangladesh Global Autism Program Launch & GPU Participation

Saima Hossain-school psychologist and disability activist, advisor on mental health to the World Health Organization (WHO) and her native country of Bangladesh- has taken proactive action in convening and engaging global subject experts in autism and neurodevelopment disabilities for planning a Global Autism Program launch adjacent to the WHO SE Asia Regional Conference (SEAR) where Ministers of Health gathered with multilateral and INGO representatives to rank and set top healthcare priorities. In this context, two days of meeting were held with global south and north subject experts presenting examples of 'best practices' and recommendations for launching sustainable and scalable programs to meet the needs of children and adults with neurodevelopmental differing abilities.

GlobalPartnersUnited's CEO/Founder, Evelyn Cherow, MA, MPA, was invited as a subject expert in disability program and policy development and telepractices. Cherow presented pertinent Global Policy Priorities, best practices algorithms, and collaboration framework recommendations for integrating with extant Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) program and policy development. She urged capacity building training of community-based health and rehabilitation workers using both e- and mHealth telecomm technology strategies, distance technology specialty consultation, and the context of women's job creation to address developing countries' economic growth. Cherow posed a query to WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan who attended the first day's autism program launch discussions as to how disability program and policy needs can be addressed in the UN's post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when there are urgent global health emergencies, such as ebola, and other persistent infectious and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Dr. Chan provided a thoughtful reply and subsequently on September 22, took formal WHO department reorganization action that highlights disability (reported in a separate GPU news item).

Extensive press coverage in Bangladesh for the Global Autism Program launch reflected the importance of Saima Hossain's advocacy as well as the formal comments of commitment by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament. Many Ministers of Health from both developed and developing countries added their formal comments strongly supporting their country's collaboration in this disability focused initiative. With the UN Convention (treaty) on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) ratified by 151 countries and 1 billion persons estimated worldwide with disabilities, 80% in developing countries (World Report on Disability; 2011), this initiative holds promise to connect experts and community-based personnel to identify early and intervene with appropriate programming to ensure an improved quality of life for persons with neurodevelopmental different abilities and their families.

Press Release on Preplanning Workshop Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) more commonly known as autism is a unique neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by an inability or loss in language development, impaired social communication, delays in motor skill development, hypersensitivity to sensory stimulation, stereotypical and/or repetitive mannerisms, and restricted interests. Although several plausible theories point to a combination of genetic predispositions and environmental factors there is yet no known cause or cure for ASD.

ASD not only debilitates the life of the individual but also significantly impacts the social, economic and emotional wellbeing of the family. In developing countries, particularly for those living in poverty, the situation is further compounded by poor infrastructure, shortage of trained professionals and evidence based intervention programs and research centers.

Rather than attempting to emulate existing models of screening, identification, diagnosis, intervention, which is financially challenging even for many developed countries, with sufficient technical and financial support developing countries can formulate innovative strategies which would be acceptable, affordable and accessible to the vast majority of Bangladesh. To address this issue, Saima Hossain, has initiated an international movement to bring together Governments, Parents, International and National Experts, called the Global Initiative on Autism. The vision is to create an international partnership which envisions a world in which persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) are able to achieve their fullest potential and participate fully in all aspects of community life, on an equal basis with others. The idea is to develop and share good examples from across the world, examples where multi-pronged approaches have been implemented to foster greater coordination and collaboration for policies and programs, so that governments and NGOs, families and experts can find a common platform on which to work together.

On the 10th of September, 2014, a meeting was called by Saima Hossain, organized through the good offices of eminent experts from USA, Peru, Malaysia, Canada, France, Switzerland, Kuwait, India and Bangladesh. Some are parents, some professionals, some, like Mr.Pascal Froudiere,  represented the Government of France; some represented universities, like Dr.Hasnah Toran from Malaysia; others, like Dr.Michael Klag, Dean of Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University USA. Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, Hon’ble Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament spoke eloquently on the issue of creating greater awareness across civil society, including Members of Parliament,

Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, World Health Organization participated in the discussions and took several questions from the floor. She promised her solidarity with the global movement on Autism, spearheaded by Saima Hossain. There were several presentations by eminent speakers who enlightened the audience with their innovative practices. Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Advisor on International Affairs to the Hon’ble Prime Minister Dr. Sheikh Hasina, moderated the very fruitful sessions on discussions around structure /scope/ aims etc of the proposed Global Initiative on Autism.