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Need to address mental disorders in children

WHO calls for action on World Autism Awareness Day

News release

On the occasion of World Autism Day, WHO has reaffirmed its commitment to provide technical assistance to Member States to deliver integrated health services to people with autism and other mental and developmental disorders of childhood.

Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health said, "It is a deep concern that the global burden of disease attributed to mental disorders continues to grow, particularly in developing countries. It is essential to prioritize, implement and fund projects on autism spectrum disorders and other mental disorders in children in developing countries."

Currently, the vast majority of children with mental health needs in developing countries do not receive any treatment or care. The immediate challenge in these countries is generating sufficient resources for primary health care to ensure early identification and treatment of mental disorders among children. These disorders are included as priority conditions in WHO's Mental Health Gap Action Programme 2008-2013, which was launched in 2008.

"A prioritized agenda for autism and other mental disorders in children should generate and strengthen the evidence base for cost-effective prevention and control strategies. Scaling up of services is the real need. This will also improve educational attainments and will contribute to a better informed and healthier generation of children," said Dr Benedetto Saraceno, Director, Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

On 18 December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 62/139 which declares 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day.

Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions and in restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. The condition causes disabilities that can be lifelong. Emerging evidence indicates that early intervention results in improved outcomes.

Autism spectrum disorders and other mental disorders among children bring significant economic hardships to families, given the lack of health resources often found in developing countries. The stigmatization and discrimination associated with these illnesses also remain substantial obstacles to diagnosis and treatment. The absence of autism spectrum disorders and other mental disorders among children from lists of the leading causes of death has contributed to their long-term neglect by both public policy-makers in developing countries, as well as donors.

For more information please contact:

Dr Shekhar Saxena
Programme Manager
Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO
Telephone: +41 22 791 3625
E-mail: saxenas@who.int

Dr Taghi Yasamy
Medical Officer
Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO
Telephone: +41 22 791 2677
E-mail: yasamym@who.int

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