A two-phase study on the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the country by Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, has revealed that 1.14% or one in 87 children suffer from ASD.
The six-year study was the first of its kind in Qatar and the Gulf region, it was announced Tuesday. From the results, and based on the 2016 census, the study estimates that about 4,791 individuals in Qatar between the ages of one and 20 have ASD with one in 56 boys and one in 230 girls being affected.
The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the official journal of the UK-based Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
The study was carried out by QBRI’s Neurological Disorders Research Centre (NDRC), which focuses on investigating the increasing prevalence of neurological disorders in Qatar and the region.
Dr Fouad al-Shaban, a senior scientist at NDRC, spearheaded the research, to estimate the prevalence of ASD among Qatari families and other families in Qatar and establish an autism database and disease registry.
Dr al-Shaban said: “The study is the first of its kind that set about to determine the prevalence of autism in Qatar and the region. It is our hope that the outcomes will be used to inform future studies on autism.
“Phase 1 of the study involved the screening of 9,074 primary school students aged 5 to 12 years from 93 public and private schools by using the Social Communication Questionnaire screening tool after translation and validation to the Arabic language. Phase 2 extended the study to include hospitals and special needs centres offering services to individuals with ASD, such as Rumailah Hospital and Al Shafallah Centre for Persons with Disabilities, the two primary government centres engaged in the study. Both phases reflect similar prevalence rates of approximately 1.146%.”
“Although the consanguinity rate is around 52% across the GCC and Middle East, our findings don’t show a significant correlation between consanguinity and the prevalence rate of ASD in Qatar; which is supported by the fact that ASD is a multi-genetic disorder with no direct causal link to consanguinity. Meanwhile, the study found that consanguinity is related to the severity of ASD,” added Dr al-Shaban.
Overall, the study found the prevalence of ASD in Qatar to be higher than the World Health Organisation average of 0.6 to 1% although the study variables and methodology may vary.
Dr Omar El-Agnaf, executive director of QBRI, said: “The success and findings of this study is testament to what can be achieved through a collective vision to spearhead research that will pave the way for advancements in healthcare.”
These findings have enabled researchers, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health, to create and complete Qatar’s first autism registry using the data of 1,300 individuals with ASD, which will be made available to researchers with a particular interest in neurological disorders.
The results of the study also provide crucial data that will enable the country and its policymakers to work towards adequate healthcare planning and make provisions for specialised healthcare centres, and the necessary capacity building for individuals with autism.
Amal bint Abdullatif al-Mannai, chief executive officer of Qatar Foundation for Social Work, said: “It was an honour for Al Shafallah to be able to participate in the groundbreaking study, providing researchers from QBRI with access to invaluable data to drive the study. The screening has revealed fascinating insights that will make tremendous contributions to the future provisions of adequate healthcare for those with autism and other neurological disorders.”
“The findings of the study will provide valuable data, which will help us develop a personalised and sustainable healthcare strategy to address the specific needs of those individuals with autism,” added Dr Saleh bin Ali al-Marri, assistant minister at the health ministry.