Hyderabad: With the larger goal of ensuring awareness on gender equality and inclusion of differently abled, India Autism Center organised an engaging discussion session observing International Women’s Day 2020. The discussion was addressed by Ms. Jeeja Ghosh, disability rights researcher and activist, Dr. Sarmishtha Chakrabarti, psychiatry specialist and practices in Columbia Asia Hospital and Apollo Clinic, Ms. Smita Sharma, Behaviour Analyst and Training in Charge at Amrit Somani Memorial Centre, Mrs. Namita Somani, Managing Trustee of Amrit Somani Memorial Center and Mrs. Debjani Dutta Roy, parent of a special child. ❖ Almost 1 out 68 children are diagnosed with ASD in India. It is also considered to be one of the most rapidly growing developmental disability all over the world, including India ❖ The level of awareness and knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Autism is still at a low level ❖ It is sad that many Indian paediatricians’ or health care providers don’t consider the delay in speech as a problem until the age of 3 ❖ In India, one of the most common mistakes made by people is to call Autistic individuals as mentally retarded whereas in reality they are completely different categories of disability ❖ Despite an increase in the number of ASD cases being detected in India, many individuals with Autism still remain undiagnosed and fail to receive the appropriate services they need – Description: Text Box 2 This discussion highlighted the rights of people with autism and the importance of empowering women and girls with autism and disability. They face multiple challenges, including barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others, denial of their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own choices and a lack of involvement on matters that concern them. Commenting at the event, Ms. Jeeja Ghosh said, “Gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach to every women and girls and our efforts to achieve sustainable development goals must uphold the core promise to leave no one behind”. As the discussion progressed from the challenges that an autistic women face; starting from accessing basic rights to formal education and the inadequate support available to them, the discussion reaffirmed IAC’s commitment to ensure necessary support is provided to the girl child so that they are able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms. Speaking at the event, Mr. Suresh Somani, Managing Trustee & Chairman, India Autism Center said, “All parents and every educator should encourage holistic growth and development of people under the spectrum. Educational systems often focus on strengthening in-demand-skills to increase employability. Interdisciplinary growth is essential but unfortunately undermined by academic blinkers forced on children’s eyes. While we observe International Women’s Day, our focus should be such that each girl-child is emotionally empowered, passionately driven, physically confident and spiritually aligned.” India Autism Center believes that by ensuring meaningful employment opportunities for an individual on the autism spectrum, she can lead a life of general well-being and self-sustainability. IAC will provide the right kind of support to the individuals, so that most of them are able to strive for excellence in the workplace, no matter what the nature of employment may be. IAC’s program is designed to identify the strengths of these individuals and to empower them with the necessary skills required to be successful and productive members in both their homes and community. The event was attended by teachers, parents, caregivers and students of psychology and sociology. The event witnessed active participation and interactive discussion from all parties attending the event.

Mumbai: As 1 in 4 people in India deal with some form of mental illness during their life time, Maharashtra Home Minister Shri Anil Deshmukh who was supposed to attend the conference, could not come because of the cabinet meeting and other unavoidable circumstances. But he sent a message saying that various training and mental health programs should be conducted in jails for the wellbeing of the prisoners. The major conference titled ‘Silence Todo Insurance Jodo’ organized by Poddar Foundation, a leading organization working in this field along with other dignitaries including Mr. VK Gautam, Dr. Kersi Chavda, Mr. Rahul Bose, Dr. Prakriti Poddar, Shri Ronnie Screwvala.

The conference was an open forum to discuss the importance of insurance for Mental Health and to create a collective of stakeholders and advisors to aid the development of insurance policies. to

The NCP leader offered a political perspective to the significant issue and said focus should be given on mental health.

In a message, Shri Anil Deshmukh, Home Minister, Maharashtra said, “I am extremely happy that Prakriti Poddar is working on this mission. Mental health is so important. And as the Home Minister, Maharashtra, I will try to introduce her recommendations in jails and prison for the welfare of the prisoners. All the best to the Poddar Foundation,”.

As a country, it is unfortunate that we have mainly focused on Life Insurance, failing to understand the importance of health coverage, especially that of mental health. Research suggests that 86 percent of the rural population and 82 percent of the urban populace are not covered by health insurance in India. Notably, most health insurers up till now did not even cover mental illnesses in their health plans. However, with the MHCA, the IRDAI has issued a mandate asking insurance providers to include mental illness in their bouquet of services.

Mental health experts say rising life expectancy and changing lifestyles have in recent years led to increasing incidences of depression, anxiety disorders and dementia among others. Unfortunately, this aggravating problem receives little attention, particularly due to low income levels besides other social challenges.

Bollywood actor Mr Rahul Bose, who is also the founder of an NGO the Foundation, said even stress and anxiety requires therapy, which unfortunately cannot be afforded by a lot of the suffering population.

“We do not wish to lose more people to such ailments and therefore, if mental health insurance comes out it would benefit the lives of many,” added Bose.

“As psychiatrists, we recognize that we cannot help a vast amount of people whom we want to provide assistance to as they cannot afford these treatment expenses. Treatment for mental health ailments is not often affordable or cheap, and therefore, it is so important for us to be a part of this initiative and to thoroughly define what mental disorders are. This is important to deter defrauding and discourage people from using these facilities for spas and massages,” said Dr. Kersi Chavda, Psychiatrist, PD Hinduja National Hospital.

Dr Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee, Poddar Foundation underlined the need for creating products and devising avenues for implementation of the mental health insurance.

“150 Million Indians are suffering from mental health with little or of no capability and affordability, to access care. The financial burden is extremely high and people with illnesses are often not capable of employment, hence it is extremely important to have mental health insurance products in the Indian market. We hope the collective of advisors will truly work towards creating products, devising avenues for implementation and campaigns to promote ease of adoption,” said Dr. Prakriti.

Other participants included Shri Suresh Kotak, Chairman-Kodak Committees; Shri Ronnie Screwvala, Founder-Swades Foundation; Shri Nanik Rupani, Founder-Priyadarshini Academy; Shri V K Gautam, Addl. Chief Secretary, Maharashtra State, Human Rights Commission and Mr. Sanjay Kedia, Country Head, CEO, Marsh India, Mr. Guido Tielman, Consul General, Netherlands, Mr. Sanjay Datta, Chief Underwriting Officer, Icici Lombard, Dr. Vispi Jokhi, CEO, Masina Hospital, Mr. Sandeep Asthana, Country Head, Sun Life Financial.

The conference included panel discussions and interactive sessions with the audience during which the panelists educated people about various aspects of mental health and the need for insurance. The conference was held at the Indian Merchants’ Chamber, Churchgate.

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