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Saima Wazed, an internationally acclaimed autism activist

Saima Wazed, Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina, World Health Organization, WHO

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Saima Wazed, an internationally acclaimed autism activist

Saima Wazed Putul, an internationally acclaimed autism activist and goodwill ambassador of the United Nations enjoy high-esteem globally because of her dedication towards betterment of the autistic [specially-abled] children in the world. She is the granddaughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and daughter of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. For over two decades, Saima Wazed has been relentlessly working for letting the autistic children in the world get dignified position in the society.

Saima Wazed received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Barry University in 1997, master’s degree in clinical psychology in 2002, and a specialist degree in school psychology in 2004. While studying at Barry University, she researched on development of women in Bangladesh which was recognized as the best scientific presentation by the Florida Academy of Sciences.

The World Health Organization (WHO) awarded Putul prestigious ‘WHO Excellence Award’ for her contribution to public health in the region in September 2014. She also has worked as a consultant for the US-based research institute Autism Speaks.

Saima Wazed has been working on the World Health Organization’s ‘expert advisory panel’ on mental health since June 2013. The first international conference on autism in South Asia was held in Dhaka in July 2011 on the initiative of Putul. The South Asian Autism Network was formed after that conference. The organization is working to provide health, social, and educational support to autistic children in South Asian countries.

At the initiative of Saima Wazed Putul, a proposal of Bangladesh on Autism Awareness was unanimously adopted by the Executive Council of the World Health Organization.

Commenting on Saima Wazed Putul, WHO in its website said:

World Health Organization South-East Asia Region has designated Saima Wazed, a strong advocate for autism, as its champion to enhance commitment and generate awareness and action to address the suffering of children with autism spectrum disorder, as well as their parents and caregivers.

“Saima Wazed’s dedicated and unprecedented efforts have put autism high on the health agenda in her country Bangladesh, and helped get substantial regional and global attention to autism spectrum disorder and other mental and neurodevelopmental disorders. Her support as Regional Champion is expected to garner momentum for awareness and action in member countries, as much remains to be done for autism in across the Region,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said on the occasion of World Autism Day observed on 2 April every year.

Globally, autism prevalence rates are estimated at 160 cases in a population of 10 000, or one in 62 children. Data from high resource countries show that the estimated lifetime costs of caring for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) lie between USD 1.4 million and USD 2.4 million per case according to the level of intellectual impairment.

In the low-and middle-income countries, children with ASD do not get the medical attention and care they need. Their life is a struggle, often marred by stigma, marginalization and discrimination. Autism continues to be a public health challenge which needs to be addressed with more focused efforts, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

WHO has been advocating for political commitment to the needs and services for ASD, scaling-up resources and raising public awareness to facilitate early detection, community based intervention and multisectoral approach to reduce the impact of ASD.

Among the Region’s 11 countries, Bangladesh has made focused interventions for autism and much of the pioneering work has been initiated by Saima Wazed. The Ministry of Health has integrated mental health care into primary health care. Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neuro-developmental-related disorders have been integrated in the Health, Population and Nutrition Sector Development Program. An Institute of Neuro-development and Autism has been established, while 10 medical colleges have a special wing to screen childhood disability.

In recognition of her work in advancing the cause of ASD in Bangladesh, Ms Hossain was honored by WHO South-East Asia Regional Office with Excellence in Public Health Award in September 2014.

Saima Wazed has made important contributions to the Regional and global efforts on ASD in her various roles and capacities. She launched the South-East Asia Autism Network in July 2011 and is a member of WHO’s global Expert Advisory Panel on Mental Health.

Saima leads various national, regional and global advisory committees and networks. She is the chair of Global Autism Public Health Initiative, Bangladesh, and National Advisory Committee on Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Autism. She is the founding member of the Mental Health Accessibility Task Force of the Ontario Psychological Association, Toronto, and an international advocate for autism and neurodevelopmental disorders for Organization for Global Autism Bangladesh.

As WHO Champion, Saima Wazed will be supporting WHO’s advocacy with member countries for inclusion of ASD in national policies and strategies, promoting WHO’s mental health initiatives and strengthening research and evidence of ASD for more focused interventions.

Since 2008, Saima Wazed has received many awards for her contribution in the field of autism. She was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Awards by Barry University in the United States for her contribution to autism and world health. The award was presented at the Barry University Auditorium in Miami, Florida.

Saima Wazed, just like her grandfather Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is filled with compassion for others, and many believe, she has inherited a strong leadership quality from her grandfather. It gives us immense pride in seeing the granddaughter of the Founding Father of Bangladesh receiving high-esteem at home and in the world for her extremely praiseworthy dedication towards autistic population as well as her firm determination in contributing significantly in making the world a better place for everyone.

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