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Calls to Action

Dhaka Declaration on Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities 25 July 2011

We, as a group of leaders, policy makers, health actors and advocates, civil society representatives, family and service user representatives, and other stakeholders from South Asia and South East Asia, convened in Dhaka, Bangladesh to attend a Conference titled- “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and South Asia” on 25-26 July 2011,

Inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments,

Recalling the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as resolutions adopted by other forums, in particular the United Nations General Assembly on autism,

Reiterating the provisions of Constitutions of our respective countries safeguarding against discrimination and social exclusion of people on grounds of any disability or condition, and securing the provision of the basic necessities of life, in particular education and medical care, and the right to social security to public assistance in cases of undeserved want arising from illness and disabilities,

Noting that developmental disorders are being increasingly recognized all over the world as disabling conditions which seriously influence everyday functioning of affected children, severely interfere with their developmental, educational and social attainments, and bring significant economic costs to families and societies,

Aware that autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the functioning of the brain, and characterised by impairments in social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and restricted, repetitive behaviour, interests and activities,

Concerned that, despite increasing evidence documenting the effectiveness of early interventions in improving the overall functioning of the child and long-term outcomes, children and families in need often have poor access to services and do not receive adequate treatment and care,

Deeply concerned at the prevalence and high rate of autism in all societies and regions and its consequent developmental challenges to long-term health care, education and training as well as its tremendous impact on communities and societies,

Recalling that children with developmental disorders and their families often face major challenges associated with stigma, isolation and discrimination as well as a lack of access to health care and education facilities,

Recalling further that even the basic human rights of children and adults with developmental disorders are often abused, in many cases in flagrant violation of existing UN declarations and treaties,

Recognising the public health importance to address mental and developmental disorders and autism in children, based on their prevalence, disability burden, long-term health consequences and the associated human rights violations,

Recognising further that attention received by policy makers and public health experts and consequent allocation of resources have so far been inadequate to address the treatment gap for developmental disorders, and stronger concerted efforts are required,

Acknowledging efforts undertaken by governments and international global health actors to tackle the problem, including the commemoration of the UN World Autism Awareness Day, which led to increased international public concerns for autism and other developmental disorders,

Inspired further by a vision that all individuals with autism and developmental disorders ought to receive adequate and equal opportunities to enjoy health, achieve their optimal developmental potential and quality of life, and participate in society.

In keeping with the theme for the year 2011 - "Investing in Mental Health" to highlight the need for investing in developmental disorders including autism,

1.         Adopt this Declaration with the objective of promoting stronger and coordinated actions in the region and globally towards the improvement of access and quality of health care services for individuals with autism and developmental disorders.

2.         Endorse the following priority actions for realizing our vision to meet the health care needs of children with developmental disorders:

a. Increase awareness of the rights of children with developmental disorders and to highlight social responsibility to persons with such disabilities.

b.   Strengthen health systems’ capacity to address the needs of children with developmental disorders and their families.

c.   Improve capacities of professionals involved in provision of integrated care services for children with developmental disorders at various levels, from primary health care and communities to specialized services.

d.   Mobilize and allocate increased human and financial resources for the health care of children with developmental disorders and for stepwise implementation of the identified priority actions.

e.   Support provision of care as close as possible to families' homes and schools and promote participation in family life, education and society.

f.    Establish measures for assurance of quality of services.

g.   Promote a supportive national legislative and policy environment to ensure social inclusion.

h.   Ensure effective collaboration mechanisms across sectors and particularly, among health, education, and social services, and promote adoption of a holistic approach to care provision for developmental disorders.

i.    Hold regularly scheduled regional conferences to continue to share information and best practices as well as monitor progress.

3.         Recognise that low and middle income countries need prioritization and adaptation of support according to local context and specificities.

4.         Call upon the governments, especially the Ministries of health, education and social affairs, to strengthen their mental health services and prepare them to attend to the needs of people with developmental disorders and autism.

5.         Invite the United Nations, including the World Health Organization, and other relevant UN Agencies to provide technical support and assistance to Member States in the implementation of actions towards increased public awareness and scientific evidence, and improved health care services for children with developmental disorders including autism, in the context of integrated case services for child mental health.

6.         Request other international, bilateral and non-governmental organizations, especially those dedicated to developmental disorders and autism to support this Declaration according to their specific mandates.

7.         Appeal to the donor community to pay attention to the unmet needs of millions of people affected by developmental disabilities and autism and financially support the technical programmes planned to improve the relevant systems of care and services.