Friday, April 24, 2015

NGO Bemoans Lack of Specialist Health Service for Persons with Autism

Hannah Awadzi

Mr Auberon Jeleel Odoom, National Coordinator of Inclusion Ghana, a non governmental organization working to reduce stigmatization and ensure full inclusion of all persons with intellectual abilities has bemoaned the significant lack of specialist health service  for persons with Autism.

He said diagnosis and treatment of persons with autism were often hampered by a lack of training of health professionals, communication barriers, a lack of coordinated car, insufficient health outreach programmes and a lack of appropriate policies.

Mr Odoom was speaking at the Accra Autism Conference on the theme: A Parents Perspective, organized by the Autism Society of West Africa. The conference attracted parents of children with autism, caregivers, health professional, Heads and staff of Special Schools and specialist in the field such as speecj therapist, physiotherapist, Psychologists among others.

"Autism is usually diagnosed by behavioural evidence such as observing the child or obtaining a history on the child's development from parents, caregivers or speech pathologist. In Ghana we have only a few physician, psychologist or developmental pediatrician who are able to provide the formal diagnosis," he said

"Ghana's National Health Insurance Scheme does not cover autism services and support, however, although not legislated to do so, the new Ghana National Health Insurance Act of Parliament sets out an exemption clause for persons with autism to access free health care and this includes premium exemptions," He revealed.

Mr Odoom noted that in the absence of equal access to health care or an inclusive health care system, persons with autism were at serious risk of delayed diagnosis, persistent abuse, depleted social capital ad isolation.

He pointed out that numerous studies indicated that early intervention could significantly enhance outcomes for children with autism, stressing that early diagnosis was key.

There are no more than 15 persons providing speech and language services, an important rehabilitation service for persons with autism, Mr Odoom said, drawing attention to the need  for a significant larger number of specialists across Ghana to ensure that persons with autism have their disability diagnoses and receive proper health care.

In a speech read on her behalf, Mrs Dela Sowah, Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection said there was the need to conduct research into country specific situation on autism to inform interventions by relevant stakeholders.

"We also need to increase frequency of events such as these to be able to sensitize and build care skills," she said.

She also said there was the urgent need to develop a strategy to ensure that special schools were adequately resourced to effectively carry out their mandate and called  on the corporate world and individuals to embrace and support special schools to enable them to continue to inspire, empower and give hope to persons with autism and other persons with disability.

Dr Bolanle Adewole of The Learning Place, a Nigerian NGO who presented a similar overview of how such persons are able to access health, education and other basic amenities in Nigeria, said one strategy her organization was using to reach to mothers and caregivers was to organize periodic training for them to enable them efficiently handle such children.

Mrs Serwaa Quaynor of the Autism Awareness, Care and Training Centre who also spoke from a mother's perspective called for support for mothers, saying most mothers go through anger, denial, and depression before they are able to accept the situation.

She called for enhanced collaboration between special schools and centres and more support for mothers who may not have the finances to support their children through special education.

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