The designation by the United Nations of World Autism Awareness Day would provide a landmark opportunity to focus attention on a global epidemic estimated to affect 35 million people worldwide, officials associated with the initiative said today.
Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Permanent Representative of Qatar to the UN, called on Member States to break the “barrier of shame” of people suffering from autism and raise international awareness of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
“Qatar shares the concerns of a number of countries about the high rate of autism in children in all region of the world,” Mr. Al-Nasser said at a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.
Almost a month ago, the General Assembly committee dealing with social, cultural and humanitarian issues – also known as the Third Committee – approved a draft resolution, introduced by the Qatari delegation and co-sponsored by 50 Member States, on the designation of the Day. If adopted by the 192-member Assembly, World Autism Awareness Day will be observed annually on 2 April beginning in 2008.
“Combating autism is going to require worldwide effort. It is not politically, geographically or economically centred. It is an equal destroyer,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, a United States-based non-governmental organization that works to raise awareness of autism and fund research for its causes, prevention and treatment.
In the last two and a half years, Autism Speaks spent an estimated $60 million on scientific and medical research, he said. In the United States, children diagnosed before the age of three and then properly treated had a 50 per cent chance of graduating from public school at an appropriate age level. However, many African-American and Hispanic children and children from non-English-speaking households were not diagnosed until age seven.
Speaking of her own family’s experience following her grandson’s diagnosis with autism, Suzanne Wright, Bob’s wife and co-founder of Autism Speaks, said that “until our lives were touched we had no idea that we were in the middle of an urgent global health crisis affecting tens of millions worldwide.”
Noting that 1.5 million people had the disease in the United States and a new child was diagnosed with it every 20 minutes, she called for an immediate global response to address the epidemic.