A dearth of trained paediatricians who can competently assess and treat autism at early developmental stages is perturbing, said health experts.
Speaking at an event organised by the Sahaara Group in collaboration with Serena Hotel to mark World Autism Day, celebrated every year on April 2, experts lamented the lack of trained paediatricians who could assess children at the time of their birth, especially at public hospitals.
Furthermore, they suggested the establishment of developmental and behavioural paediatric departments at all district headquarter hospitals (DHQ) and tehsil headquarter hospitals (THQ) across the country.
Dr Hashim Raza, a professor and autism specialist at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), informed participants that he is the only doctor at the Pims Children’s Hospital qualified to deal with such cases.
“Every day, around 40 deliveries are carried out. I cannot assess each and every one of these newborns for autism on my own,” said Raza.
In Pakistan, a lack of awareness about the condition leads to a delayed diagnosis, worsening the neurological disorder. Affected children are often mislabelled ‘mentally ill’.
“Although no updated statistics are available on autistic children in Pakistan, it is estimated that around one million cases have gone undiagnosed,” he added.
Dr Shazia Maqbool, head paediatrician at Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health in Lahore, shared the risk factors giving rise to autism — lack of birth spacing, advanced parental age and extremely premature births are determinants which can make the incidence of autism in a newborn more likely.
Dr Maqbool expressed concern over the lack of government involvement in outreach programmes at community level, with private organisations carrying all the burden.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 3rd, 2014.