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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Saima Wazed: Blazing a trail in mental health advocacy

  • Saima Wazed’s birthday on December 9
  • 1st Bangladeshi to be nominated as next WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia
Update : 09 Dec 2023, 09:25 PM

Bangladesh's renowned mental health advocate, Saima Wazed, has achieved a significant milestone as the first Bangladeshi to be nominated as the next World Health Organization Regional Director for South-East Asia. 

On her birthday on Friday, she received an outpouring of greetings and well-wishes, marking her remarkable journey.

Over the past decade, Saima Wazed led a formidable campaign for autism awareness in Bangladesh, earning international recognition for her efforts that have positively impacted hundreds of thousands of lives both in Bangladesh and globally.

Before her influential work, parents and their affected children in Bangladesh often had to confront the social stigma attached to autism. This trend has shifted significantly thanks to her advocacy.

Social media platforms, particularly Facebook, were abuzz with birthday wishes for Wazed, with many expressing pride in her recent election as WHO's regional director, where she secured eight votes.

Her life story is one of resilience and courage. She is a survivor of the 1975 massacre that claimed the lives of several family members, including the founding father of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. During this period of national turmoil, Saima Wazed and her family faced numerous challenges, including being barred from attending the burials of their loved ones and living in exile.

Despite these hardships, her determination never wavered. Inspired by her grandfather's dedication to public service, she developed a deep interest in mental health from an early age. Her return to Bangladesh in 1981 marked a turning point in her life, leading her to pursue a career in psychology. Now, she is a licensed school psychologist in the US, a faculty member at Barry University's Adrian Dominican School of Education, and has achieved significant milestones in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Her influence extends beyond her achievements. In 2011, she chaired a pivotal South Asia regional meeting on autism in Dhaka, attracting global experts and leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, Shiranthi Rajapaksa, and Ilham Hussain. 

In Bangladesh, she serves as the Chief Advisor for the National Mental Health Strategic Plan 2020-2025 and has been the Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Autism and NDDs since 2012.

Saima Wazed’s dedication has been recognized through numerous international awards, including a citation for Excellence in Public Health by WHO SEARO, the Distinguished Alumni Award by Barry University, the International Champion Award by Shema Kolainu, and recognition by Columbia University as an Innovative Leader in Global Mental Health. The Center for Research and Information (CRI) paid a glowing tribute to her, who is also a vice chair of the organization, acknowledging her immense contributions to mental health advocacy.

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