Autism Speaks, WHO, international partners advocate for inclusive health care at UN panel discussion

October 1, 2019
United Nations’ passage of a Universal Health Coverage commitment
© UNICEF/UNI208388/Chalasani

NEW YORK -- On the heels of the United Nations’ passage of a Universal Health Coverage commitment last week, WHO and UNICEF officials, international dignitaries and representatives of Autism Speaks, the H&M Foundation and Special Olympics gathered on Sept. 24, 2019, for a panel discussion to support the inclusion of people with disabilities and developmental delays.

Part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2015, Universal Health Coverage, or UHC, is a commitment to ensure access to effective health services without financial hardship.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion people in the world are living with developmental delays or disabilities, including autism. Including this “missing billion” in Universal Health Coverage is a critical step in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Meeting these children’s needs is a human rights imperative,” said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We must ensure that services for children with developmental disabilities are included in health benefit packages in every country’s universal health coverage.”

The UHC commitment requires international cooperation as well as infrastructure and resources at the local level to ensure the policy’s goals can be met.

WHO’s work with partner organizations has helped to facilitate delivery of services in countries around the world. Autism Speaks worked with WHO to develop a Caregiver Skills Training (CST) program being implemented in more than 30 countries. CST provides actionable knowledge to families and empowers caregivers to better support their child’s healthy development and learning.

“Caregiver Skills Training is one avenue for us to deliver evidence-based support to families of children with developmental delays where they live, even in very low-resource settings where few specialists, if any, are available,” said Thomas W. Frazier, Ph.D., chief science officer of Autism Speaks. “Most importantly, it leads to better outcomes for the child and their family, and we look forward to the day when it is available to every child with developmental delay or disabilities.”

The H&M Foundation also developed a program with WHO in three countries to increase local access to developmental care, and Special Olympics has supported the report “The Missing Billion: Access to Health Services for 1 Billion People with Disabilities.”

Lucy Meyer, the official spokesperson of the Special Olympics – UNICEF USA’s partnership, shared her story of working hard to prove wrong the doctors who said her cerebral palsy would leave her unable to sit up on her own. Now a Special Olympics swimmer, “I am happy to report that the doctors were wrong,” Meyer said.

“I know how important it is to have access to good health care,” Meyer continued. “It must be our goal not only to make sure children survive, but to see them thrive.”

You may also be interested in 10 things parents can do to help their child with autism

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