DHAKA: Saima Wazed Hossain, Chairperson of Bangladesh National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, has been made the Goodwill Ambassador of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for autism in South-East Asia Region.
"Saima's passionate and persistent efforts for addressing autism are commendable. She has been making significant contributions towards creating awareness and generating action to address and elevate sufferings of people affected by autism," Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia, said, while announcing the WHO's decision.
In the last one year, championing for the cause of autism for WHO, Saima facilitated the 'Thimphu Declaration' on autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders at an international conference in Bhutan in April 2017.
The declaration calls for a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach, with a focus on strengthening national capacities in health, education and social care sectors to provide effective services and support for people with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
As WHO Goodwill Ambassador, Saima will be promoting the Thimphu declaration which also emphasizes integrating the needs of autism affected people into national health and socioeconomic development plans, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
Besides Thimphu declaration, as a WHO champion for autism in the region, she made other important contributions, such as development of a collaborative framework for implementation of WHO Regional Strategy on autism spectrum disorder; and national action plans for post disaster mental health and psycho-social support, the Regional Director said.
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.
Globally, autism prevalence rates are estimated to be 160 cases in a population of 10 000. In low-and middle-income countries, children with autism do not get the medical attention and care they need. Their life is a struggle, marred by stigma and discrimination.
"With Saima's efforts and support, WHO aims to put autism high on the health agenda of countries in the Region, to address this public health challenge," Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
Earlier, in recognition of her work for advancing autism in Bangladesh, WHO South-East Asia Regional Office honoured her with the Excellence in Public Health Award in September 2014.
Saima, daughter of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was designated as WHO Regional Champion for autism in May 2016.