Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi inaugurated a conference of the South Asia Autism Network in New Delhi on Monday. Representatives from India, Bangladesh, Thailand and WHO, SEARO will participate in the daylong conference.
“It is simply not acceptable that we perceive people with autism as people who don’t have any understanding. We need to change. We must make the world a comfortable place for those with autism. We need to learn to respect those who may perceive and experience the world differently from us. We need to empathize with them” said Sonia Gandhi. “We need to focus on not what is different about them, unfamiliar movement, unexpected expressions, unusual silences, uncommon imagination but on the vastness of what we have in the common as equal members of one humanity” she added.
The Congress President continued “Human society has expanded the frontiers of knowledge and seen the eradication of many debilitating diseases, yet in the case of autism, despite its widespread prevalence, an understanding for its causes remains elusive”.
“ Professor Saima Wajid Hussain has just given us some figures that tell us that autism specter disorder is on the increase. We probably have over 8 million individuals with autism spectrum condition” said SoniaGandhi and added “Our ministers have just spoken to us about many initiatives and the programmes which have been started here in India, including some changes in some policies. However, I feel that the fulmination of public policies in our countries is not kept pace and not enough attention has been given to disability sector. In the absence of adequate institutional support mechanism, the differently abled remained deprived of their rights”.
During the conference, representatives from India and Bangladesh will present the official SAAN charter for adoption by all network member States. The charter notes the commitment to the following goals: To raise public and professional awareness of ASD; to provide resources for parents and professionals; to collect public health data to understand the burden of ASD; to conduct professional training in the areas of evidence based services to meet the life cycle needs of persons with ASD. It will also encourage in ASD, promote inter-country sharing of data resources and expertise and to explore funding mechanisms to achieve the above goals and objectives.
The WHO shows an escalation in the disease burden for autism from 10 percent to 14 percent over the period 1990 to 2011. It is expected to rise to 15 percent by 2020. After the adoption of Dhaka Declaration on 25 July 2011, the South Asian Autism Network (SAAN) was born to combat the devastating autism public health crises. The intention is to identify common challenges each country is facing and form a partnership to develop solutions in a collaborating and coordinated fashion.
The intensions include establishing a regional autism awareness campaign in South East Asia, creating joint programmes for information-sharing and professional training, and defining national and regional strategies to advance autism public health research and policy development.