Bangladesh gets global backing on autism ‘partnership’

A global initiative for “partnership” on autism has been launched in Dhaka on the sidelines of the WHO regional meeting.

Published : 11 Sept 2014, 10:12 AM
Updated : 11 Sept 2014, 12:36 PM

Bangladesh, with the support of WHO, put forward the idea on Thursday for “comprehensive and coordinated” response to the growing challenge of autism.

The idea received global support.

“We have been successful (in getting support),” autism expert Saima Wazed Hossain said, briefing media after the launching at the Pan Pacific Sonargoan Hotel.

Hossain, better known by her nickname Putul, has broached the idea on behalf of Bangladesh.

She said the idea was to work together taking all including the families of the children onboard.

Dhaka based diplomats of different countries, international experts’, representatives of the UN agencies and World Bank were present during the launching.

Photo: tanvir ahammed/

Her mother, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was also present.
Putul has been recognised by the WHO with an award of excellence in public health for her “path-breaking” works on autism that WHO says put the neuro-development disorder on its map.
Briefing journalists she said Bangladesh has always been a leader on autism and “we want to continue to be a leader (on autism)”.

Autism spectrum disorders are a complex medical condition comprising a range of developmental disorders.

These children are unable to pick up self-care tasks – dressing, self-feeding, toileting – by watching and imitating. They cannot make eye-to-eye contact, and have a single-track thought process.

The problem usually begins to show up in the first three years of life, affecting the normal development of social and communication skills.

There is no proven cause for the disorders, but growing evidences show that these could be due to a gene-environment interaction.

Putul said different countries were working on their own and some of them had best practices, but there was no collaboration and coordination.

“We want this collaboration so that everyone benefits,” she said, “We want to work in partnership”.

Putul is the Chairperson of the Bangladesh’s National Advisory Committee on Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders, and Global Autism Public Health Initiative - Bangladesh.

Photo: tanvir ahammed/

She is the architect of South Asia Autism Network that brought the regional countries together to address the growing challenge of this disorder.

She also spearheaded an autism resolution that the WHO adopted.

In her proposal, she identified some common challenges the region was facing.

Lack of evidence-based public health initiative, lack of public and professional awareness, lack of resources, human, and materials support, stigma, misconceptions, discrimination, and exclusion were some of those challenges.

The goals of the partnership are to promote, protect, and ensure the rights to inclusive development for persons with autism spectrum disorders, and address their life-cycle needs with “multi-sectoral and multi-level planning and action”.

It is also aiming at sharing cost-effective, sustainable strategies of service delivery systems through public-private partnership.

Raising awareness, ending discrimination and ensuring access to health, education, employment, and social services are some other highlights of the partnership proposal.

“We realised that we alone cannot do it. We need support of all,” Putul said.

Photo: tanvir ahammed/

Bangladesh has a national steering committee comprising members of all relevant ministries, which Putul said is a “collaborative model”.

“No other country has such a model,” she said, “We want to uphold this as an effective model”.

She said Unicef has a global network on disability, but that did not include autism.

Autism is not an issue only for the health ministry, she said. It needs all since it involves those special children’s education, social integration and rights issue.

Chief of Child Neurology Division of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Prof Sheffali Gulati said they were ready to collaborate with Bangladesh.

She particularly mentioned diagnostic tools as most of the Asian countries as of today depend on the western tools, which are not culture and language sensitive.

She said since both India and Bangladesh share common culture, “We can share our tool that we develop for India”.

Michael Klag, dean of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said they have a project in Bangladesh to make standard diagnostic tool which is useful for Bangladesh.

He said any western tools need to be translated in local language and culturally sensitive.

Putul thanked all for their support in the proposal and said all responded quickly to Bangladesh’s call.

“It means it’s an important issue,” she said.

She said she believed the award she received from the WHO was not for her. “It’s to the issue. It’s recognition to the issue”.

The US-licensed school psychologist is also a member of the WHO Secretary General’s expert panel on mental health.