For the third year in a row at the start of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, first spouses and dignitaries from around the globe assembled today for the Third Annual World Focus on Autism, hosted by Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism research and advocacy organization. Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of the U.N. Secretary-General and Hosts Suzanne and Bob Wright of Autism Speaks, were joined by Co-hosts Dee and Tommy Hilfiger and more than 10 first spouses to discuss solutions to combat the global crisis of autism.
The international coalition in attendance represented a wide array of countries. The participation of the first spouses demonstrated a striking endorsement of global efforts to raise autism awareness. The group joined together for a Q & A session with world-class experts from the scientific community and discussed international solutions to raise global awareness and promote research into this non-discriminative disorder.
Fashion magnate, Tommy Hilfiger, expressed support for Autism Speaks by saying, “My wife Dee and I are delighted to be participating and lending our support to this cause. Autism prevalence is rising here and around the globe at an alarming rate. We will do whatever we can to help with this fight.”
In her opening remarks, Mrs. Ban Soon-taek welcomed the international group on behalf of her husband U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon stating, “Autism is so personal but also so global. The United Nations is proud to be part of the international response… Last April, we marked World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). I was privileged to take part in this massive social movement for solidarity.”
In the wake of Autism Speaks’ wildly successful autism awareness effort in celebration of WAAD, “Light It Up Blue,” in which more than 200 iconic landmarks, airports, bridges, sports arenas, museums around the world were illuminated in blue lights on the evenings of April 1 and 2, 2010, Suzanne Wright, Autism Speaks Co-founder, said “the world can expect to be bathed in blue” in 2011 as all of the attending first spouses agreed to participate and expand the program in their countries.
Other speakers at the World Focus on Autism included Geri Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer, Andy Shih, Ph.D., Autism Speaks’ Vice President of Scientific Affairs, Dr. Liri Berisha, President of the Albanian Children’s Foundation and wife of the Albanian Prime Minister. Other prominent attendees included Mrs. Chantal Biya, First Lady of Cameroon; Mrs. Elsie Christofias, First Lady of Cyprus; Mrs. Rosa Elena de Lobo, First Lady of Honduras; Mrs. Eloise Gonsalves, Spouse of the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and Grenadines; Mrs. Maja Ivanova, First Lady of the Republic of Macedonia; Mrs. Mathato Mosisili, First Lady of Lesotho; Mrs. Rosella Nestor King, First Lady of St. Lucia; Mrs. Valeria Toribiong, First Lady of Palau; and Mrs. Lilita Zatlere, First Lady of Latvia.