August 1, 2011
By Andy Shih, Ph.D., vice president scientific affairs, Dana Marnane, vice president of awareness and events and Michael Rosanoff, associate director, public health research and scientific review
On Monday and Tuesday, July 25-26, Autism Speaks, in partnership with the World Health Organization and the Government of Bangladesh, launched the Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative in Bangladesh. GAPH-Bangladesh aims to improve services, raise awareness and fund research in the nation. The partnership was launched at an international conference “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and South East Asia.” In addition to launching GAPH-Bangladesh, those assembled agreed to start the South Asia Autism Network – a multi-national network of governments, organizations, and private citizens committed to combating autism throughout South Asia.
Attending this historic conference were Chief Guest, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, (in her first ever visit to Bangladesh); Sheikh Hasina, Bangladeshi Prime Minister; her daughter Saima Wazed Hossain; Sri Lankan First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa; and Ilham Hussain, wife of the Republic of Maldives vice president. Autism Speaks was represented by this story's authors.
At the conclusion of the opening ceremonies, the governmental representatives and those gathered agreed to adopt the “Dhaka Declaration” which brings attention to the unmet needs of millions of individuals with developmental disabilities and autism. It calls for coordinated action in the region and globally to raise awareness, improve access to quality healthcare and resources, and encourage a more welcoming community. The Dhaka Declaration will serve as a political instrument to mobilize resources and UN agencies for not only the South Asia region, but the world.
President Sonia Gandhi, who Forbes Magazine has rated among the most powerful people in the world, called it a landmark conference that will help raise awareness, improve early diagnosis and expand the range of services and facilities for individuals with autism. “The stronger this movement grows, the greater will be the pressure on governments to provide more services,” said Gandhi.
Other nations represented included Indonesia, Bhutan, Thailand, Nepal, Jordan, Brunei and Myanmar.