Project to support the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism in Algeria (Autism PROFAS C+)
Autism, a major public health problem in Algeria
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder whose characteristics vary from person to person and persist throughout life. In many cases, and with no early treatment, it can lead to disabilities of varying degrees of severity. The consequences are far-reaching, for the individuals affected, their families and the community as a whole.
The internationally accepted average prevalence of autism is 1%. The number of people with autism in Algeria could therefore be estimated at over 400,000. This makes autism a major public health problem, especially as prevalence continues to rise and the country's population continues to grow.
Insufficient diagnosis and care
Algeria is faced with the immensity of its territory and the scarcity of unevenly distributed resources.
In recent years, just a few centres have been developing diagnosis and care programmes based on international recommendations. They face growing demand, but lack qualified personnel. Training in diagnosis and care methods is not yet included in the various university courses. This means that few therapists are trained in the main recommended methods and procedures and there is a lack of certified trainers in this field.
This means that many children do not receive a precise diagnosis or appropriate care and services. As a result, they often develop disabilities and other neuropsychiatric illnesses. In rare cases, they manage to have a school education, but with many difficulties.
The issue has therefore become a major concern for the health, solidarity, and education authorities.
Improving the quality of care for children with ASD
The project supports the Algerian Ministry of Health in its efforts to improve autism care, and more specifically to:
1. Improve the screening and diagnosis of people with autism;
2. Improve the care and support for people with autism and their families;
3. Support the definition of regulatory frameworks for the management of autism.
In January 2020, two of the project's experts, Saïd Acef and Ghislain Magerotte, carried out an appraisal mission to assess the medical-psychological, social and educational care conditions for people with autism and the support provided to families. This assessment was a prerequisite to the implementation of three areas of activity.
A training program
In order to strengthen the capacities and conditions for the care of people with autism, three training courses were provided as part of the project, focusing on two themes:
- Training professionals in diagnosis and treatment in line with international recommendations. 39 child psychiatrists, psychologists and speech therapists were trained by Ceresa in three 3-day sessions.
- Training families in the day-to-day support of children with autism. 9 parent-experts and 22 child psychiatrists and psychologists were trained via the Pufadsa platform at the University of Clermont-Ferrand over an 8-month period, and by the SUSA foundation during a 3-day workshop.
All those trained, subject to their progress and qualification as trainers, will be able to duplicate the training they have received.
A national website on autism
To meet the need for reliable, national information on the subject of autism, the Autisme Algérie website has been created and will go online in November 2021. Designed as a tool, it exists in Arabic and French, and is adapted for mobile use to be accessible to as many people as possible. One year after its launch, it already boasts over 100,000 users.
The main users are people with autism and their families. They can find resources to help them better understand autism and the autism journey, as well as advice on how to improve the day-to-day lives of people with autism and help them through every stage of their lives. The site also features a section dedicated to professionals. The content available enables them to deepen their knowledge and supports them in caring for people with autism.
Autisme Algérie is accompanied by a Facebook page of the same name and an autism awareness video. Other information and communication materials have also been produced, including a poster and leaflets on spotting the first signs of autism. These will be distributed in pediatricians' and PMI waiting rooms, and made available to child psychiatrists across the country.
Consult the website : https://autisme.sante.gov.dz/fr/
Drawing up the draft National Autism Plan 2024-2028
Algeria does not yet have a national strategy dedicated to autism, or a coordinated diagnosis, intervention and support system to meet the multiple needs of people with autism and their families. A National Autism Plan was therefore drawn up collectively and cross-sectorally as part of the Autism PROFAS C+ project.
Through discussions and workshops, the draft National Autism Plan was structured around 4 strategic axes, comprising 12 priority measures and 28 sub-measures. These axes are supported by 3 transversal pillars, essential prerequisites for implementing the plan.
- Pillar 1: Set up a national governance body responsible for steering, coordinating and monitoring the effective implementation of the priorities and measures.
- Pillar 2: Provide resources and financial means to support the implementation of priority measures.
- Pillar 3: Set up a structured monitoring and evaluation system
Axis 1: Strengthen care and better guarantee the overall pathway for children and adults with autism
Axis 2: Improve the quality of interventions by training professionals
Axis 3: Develop a communication and information plan on autism
Axis 4: Provide day-to-day support and recognize the expertise of families
The actions carried out as part of the Autisme PROFAS C+ project have laid the foundations for the priority measures that will be implemented once the National Autism Plan has been adopted. They will be continued and developed as part of this overall national strategy to improve care and support for people with autism.
Autisme PROFAS C+ is a pilot project of Expertise France's Health Department. Its positive results are fully in line with France's global health strategy, which includes mental health as one of its priorities, and confirm its potential for deployment in other countries.