Speaking at a jointly sponsored event with Nigeria’s Ministry of Women Affairs, and non-governmental organizations, U.S. Ambassador James F. Entwistle called for better understanding of challenges of autism.
He emphasized the importance of building public awareness, finding policy solutions, and expanding medical and social treatment for autism as other areas in which the United States and Nigeria can work together. The United States has strong partnerships with Nigeria in fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and many other childhood diseases.
“All persons—including those with autism—deserve to be treated with dignity and understanding,” Ambassador Entwistle said. He added that the ongoing efforts by health care and policy professionals, parents, NGO activists, and the media are important steps toward building social awareness.
Ambassador Entwistle applauded the courageous efforts of parents and health care practitioners, such as Dr. Yinka Akindayomi, whose son was born with autism. Through her efforts, and with support from the U.S. African Development Foundation, Dr. Akindayomi established the Children’s Developmental Centre in Lagos, where hundreds of children and young adults have received diagnostic assessments, treatment, vocational training, and other social services.
Autism is a global problem that affects one of every 68 children in the United States. Worldwide, autism affects all classes and races, in cities and in rural areas. In Nigeria, an estimated 200,000 to 380,000 people are affected by autism. Estimates are that autism is the third most common childhood disorder in Nigeria and is the fastest growing developmental disability.
Abidemi Aremu, Director of Planning, Research, and Statistics at the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, said funding remained an enormous challenge in the provision of services to persons living with autism in Nigeria. Consequently, there is need for collaborative efforts with other nations such as the United States to assist Nigeria in the area of provision of health services.
Over one hundred participants including parents, autistic children, teachers, caregivers, NGO activists, and medical professionals attended the program held at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja.