Foundation for Africans with Disabilities and Neglect (FADINE) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the welfare of the most vulnerable Cameroonians. Formed in Maryland by a group of sons and daughters of Cameroon who live in the United States, the NGO reflects their love for their native country and their desire to give back to their people some measure of the gifts they received from Cameroon's rich and diverse culture. We seek to address the needs of a variety of at-risk populations including patients in hospitals, orphaned and other vulnerable children, and incarcerated youth; however, our first project is focused on building on the autism expertise among FADINE’s founders. FADINE is forging a partnership between Americans and Cameroonians who work in autism to address the needs and circumstances of autistic people in Cameroon.
Overview of Cameroon
Located on the Atlantic coast of central Africa, the Republic of Cameroon shares borders with Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo. Cameroon has a diverse population. An estimated 20.1 million people live in Cameroon, and about 57% of the country's population reside in urban environments.
In Cameroon, the doctor to patient ratio is about 1 to 13,514; the infant mortality rate is about 6%; and roughly a quarter of the population lacks access to safe drinking water. The mortality rate of those under five is 159 deaths per 1,000 live births, and the infant mortality rate is 95 deaths per 1,000 live births. The northern provinces of Cameroon lie within the African meningitis belt and are subject to outbreaks of the disease. The most common major health concerns in Cameroon are malaria, amoebic dysentery, hepatitis, schistosomiasis, filariasis, and HIV/AIDS.
Autism in Cameroon
Some families in Cameroon in search of an explanation for their children’s developmental disorders have looked toward their social and cultural beliefs associated with witchcraft. Medically, autism is not well known in the country. According to medical personnel, beliefs about autism in Cameroon have made it difficult to handle those suffering from the disorder since it must be treated within the context of the family as opposed to in isolation. Most children with autism in Cameroon are abandoned and neglected, and some are even left to die. People with autism in Cameroon sometimes wander the streets as others flee from them in fear. Shunned, defenseless, and terrified, autistic people in Cameroon commonly live in appalling conditions. Sometimes they are subject to attack as the people around them attempt to drive away the demons which they believe possess the autistic. For this reason, Cameroonian people with autism may be poisoned, drowned, hacked to death, or buried alive.
Despite such circumstances, Cameroon has been in the forefront among African countries in addressing autism. The country has several programs that work with autistic individuals, and the First Lady of Cameroon, Mrs. Chantal Biya, has been a leader in the effort to support autistic Cameroonians.
According to estimates from the World Health Organization, the prevalence of autism is estimated to range between 0.7 to 21.1 per 10,000 children while the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is estimated to range between 1 and 6 per 1,000 children. Although autism is no longer rare in Cameroon and there has been a steady rise in the number of children with autism, the incidence has remained somewhat obscure. Overall, it is estimated that 100,000 children were affected by autism in Cameroon in 2011.
Many children with or at risk for ASDs are not being identified early enough and parents have no knowledge regarding how to care for these children. There are limited medical and educational services available for this growing population. There is presently no medical cure and regular schools reject the children. Adults with autism in Cameroon end up in the streets as “mad” persons.
FADINE is partnering with the U.S.-based Foundation for Autism Support & Training (FAST) to augment services provided by organizations in Cameroon which serve the needs of the autistic.
We are collaborating to provide service providers in Cameroon with:
- Training courses related to various aspects of autism,
- Public information campaigns to inform the public that people with autism can contribute to their communities and attend school,
- Assistance in working with parents on how to support their children,
- School materials designed for people with autism, and
- Financial assistance and other donations.
We are collaborating to collect donations which will:
- Assist Cameroonians who are unable to pay for their health care,
- Underwrite the purchase of medical equipment, projects to create infrastructure, and projects that support palliative and hospice care for the dying; and
- Underwrite the purchase of medical, laboratory, and dental equipment for Cameroonian health facilities.
Finally, we are collaborating to organize a program that will allow physicians (particularly surgeons and OB/gynecologists), nurses, physical therapists, laboratory assistants, and diagnostic imaging, surgical, and biomedical technicians to volunteer in Cameroon.
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.