Around 1% of the population in Ivory Coast could be affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to estimates from the World Health Organisation.
ASD is an often taboo subject, however, and treatment is hard to come by as the country severely lacks the necessary medical resources to help patients. ‘s Sophie Lamotte and Ange Nomenyo report from Bouaké.
Local health workers in Ivory Coast travel long distances to rural areas of the country to provide assistance to autistic children and their families.
Poorly acknowledged and under-diagnosed, ASD affects the lives of many on the southern coast of West Africa and is often stigmatised by Ivorians.
“In Ivory Coast it is frowned upon when you have a child that has a disorder… It brings shame to the family, and sometimes they want to keep them in the house and lock them up,” says Nicolas Kouadio, a community health worker dedicated to bringing more awareness of the subject to local populations.
Apart from the need for de-stigmatisation, Ivory Coast is also in desperate need for resources. The country counts only 5 child psychiatrists for more than 11 million children under the age of 14.
Ivorian health authorities plan to launch a vast autism screening project in 2023, but currently there’s only one public care center in the country and less than a dozen doctors trained in the management of autism.