WHY THE NEED:
The World Health Organization has recognized autism spectrum
disorders (ASD) as a growing public health concern. (WHO, 2013).
Unfortunately, most of what we know about ASD, its incidence, treatment,
and outcomes come from high income countries. Kieling, et al., (2011)
describe this problem as a “90-10 divide”. That is, 90 % of the
world’s children live in low and middle income countries, yet only 10
% of the research is conducted there. One concern in the Sub-Saharan
African countries is that there are even more factors that could lead to
ASD than in higher income countries. These include exposure to mercury,
malaria, prenatal stress and other high rates of infectious diseases.
There are few if any diagnostic facilities in most African
countries. Very little is available in terms of treatment or
interventions. Sadly, many children with ASD are locked away, even
tied up, and even killed. Parents often resort to these drastic
measures because they have so few options and often fear the stigma that
is so pervasive across many parts of Africa.
Autism is typically diagnosed between 2 and 3 years of age. In
Africa, if a child ever gets diagnosed, it typically doesn’t happen
until a child is 8 or 9 years of age. In many parts of Africa,
healthcare workers and families frequently attribute the features of ASD
as being brought on by a curse or being possessed by an evil spirit.
There is a critical need to raise awareness about autism across
Africa. Research is very clear that the earlier a child with ASD
receives treatment, the better the outcomes. It will be critical to
educate healthcare workers and the community in general about autism and
to support the development of education and training centers.