Increasing autism awareness in Ethiopia: The HEAT+ project


Hoekstra, Rosa

The Open University


2 years

Global Autism Public Health

Milton Keynes

United Kingdom


Milton Keynes
United Kingdom

The Open University created the Health Education and Training (HEAT) program to train and support community health workers (HEWs) in Africa. HEAT started in Ethiopia, a low-income country with a severe shortage in provision for people with mental health problems and autism. Working with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, UNICEF, AMREF and the WHO, currently over 1,000 Ethiopian HEWs are upgrading their existing training using the HEAT program. The curriculum includes an extensive mental health module, covering general mental health management and assessment, mental illness prevention strategies, and a chapter on childhood developmental problems including autism. After evaluation of the pilot the program will be extended to further cohorts of up to 33,000 HEWs in Ethiopia. Plans are in progress to adapt the HEAT modules for use in other developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. All HEAT material is freely available, both on-line and in print. This project aims to tailor and evaluate the effectiveness of the HEAT mental health module in raising general mental health awareness and knowledge about autism and to support further development of this part of the curriculum to ensure maximum impact. This study includes four phases that: 1) Provide a baseline analysis (through a survey and interviews with parents of children with autism) of the current services available at community level in Ethiopia and the attitudes, knowledge and skills of HEWs regarding mental health problems in general and childhood developmental problems, including autism, in particular. 2) Based on findings from phase 1, enhance the mental health module in the current HEAT study material. 3) Implement the revised mental health module in the curriculum. 4) Follow-up assessment through a survey in HEWs, allowing for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the revised HEAT mental health module to raise mental health awareness and improve HEWs’ knowledge about autism. This project has the potential to provide a wealth of knowledge on how to improve mental health awareness in general, and autism awareness and subsequent care for children with autism in particular, in one of the most underserved countries of the world. The successful approach in Ethiopia can subsequently be applied in other developing countries, using HEAT’s open educational resources, through collaboration with Autism Speaks and HEAT’s extensive network of partners in Africa and more widely.