The acceptance of autism in Africa is relatively very low and as such many autistic people suffer more than their counterparts in other African continents.
Africa’s indifference to this condition can be defined on two fronts. Firstly, there is culture and secondly it is a lack of effort by medical practitioners and researchers to conduct epidemiological studies that define the extent of autism and more importantly that seek to establish diagnostic practices so the condition can be diagnosed earlier among patients.
Whether it is backwardness or just the way of life for Africa, reports of witchcraft and demonic possessions are rampant in Africa. If these are just reports then there really is no problem but the fact that certain medical conditions are defined as cases of witchcraft therefore seeking traditional medicine is prioritized before clinical methods, this is where the problem arises. People with autism including other medical conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder among others are classified as bewitched or possessed by demons. This classification means that they are not afforded the medical help that so importantly need before the condition worsens.
According to a research conducted by Muideen Bakare, there hasn’t been much research on autism done in Africa. The prevalence Autism and magnitude of the autistic people is not really known. The lack of efforts by research institutions, medical practitioners including governments themselves to prioritize early diagnosis and raise awareness on Autism probably has led to the condition reaching dangerous levels.
The above illustrates the challenges which are affecting autistic people in Africa. However, a combined effort by many stakeholders can help combat this challenge.
The first and foremost thing that governments, research institutions and medical practitioners among others need to do is to raise awareness on autism. Many people in Africa including parents are ignorant of autism as a condition which needs clinical treatment. Only when they start to understand and accept autism as a medical condition will the African continent start to eradicate and minimize the impact of autism in affected people.
The African culture as has already been stated is aiding non acceptance of autism as a medical condition. Stakeholders need to formulate policies which will educate the public of the dangers of certain cultural practices. Once the populace change their way of thinking and perception of medical conditions like autism can any substantial progress be achievable.
There is also need to establish more diagnosis centers at local clinics and hospitals. Autism is a serious condition and it is of extreme importance that during a child’s immunization, s/he is diagnosed for autism and the necessary steps taken before much damage is done. As the South African Journal of Psychiatry reports that 51 percent of autistic children in Africa are non-verbal as compared to only 25 percent in the US. This then reinforces the need to diagnose Autism early to prevent the condition from worsening.
The launching of the Mental Health and Poverty Project by the World Health Organization in South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia is a welcome development but there is need for this program and others like it to spread to other less developed parts of Africa.
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Want to read more?
- Real World Experiences of People with Disabilities
- Societal and Cultural Aspects of Autism
- Acceptance and Transcendence of Autistic Individuals
About the School For Autism, Hyderabad
School For Autism is based in Hyderabad and provides therapy to people with autism, irrespective of age. To know more about the school, click here.