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Expand chart
Data: Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The latest findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) show 4.57 million children under five living with autism, or about one in 138 kids. The largest numbers of young autistic children live in developing or low- and middle-income countries, including over one million children each in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, while the highest rates of childhood autism are seen in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa.

Why it matters: So much of the dialogue surrounding autism is focused on the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe that we often forget much of the world's childhood autism is concentrated in regions where health resources are limited.

The big picture: India has the largest number of autistic children (851,000), followed by China (422,000), Nigeria (207,000), Pakistan (172,000) and Indonesia (159,000). Vaccination rates are often low in these regions, further refuting already debunked claims about a link between vaccines and autism. In contrast, about 150,000 kids with autism live in North America and fewer than 140,000 in Western Europe.

Be smart: Some patient advocates might chafe at the idea that being on the autism spectrum qualifies as a “disorder” in the current iteration of the GBD. There is merit to this argument: For many parents, it’s mostly autism’s co-morbidities (including intellectual disabilities) that have adverse consequences. But the data are still valuable in assessing the need for services and assistance.

What’s next: The huge numbers of children on the autism spectrum living in resource-limited countries mean new and better global health policies are needed to ensure that they can receive access to care and support. Both de-stigmatizing autism and providing resources for the world’s children on the autism spectrum should be priorities for the United Nations.

Peter Hotez is a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, and the author of “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism.”

Editor's note: The map legend has been clarified to show that the autism rates reflected are per 100,000 children under five.

Go deeper

Democrats drubbing Trumpless GOP on social media

Data: Twitter/CrowdTangle (Feb 24, 2021); Chart: Will Chase/Axios

In a swift reversal from 90 days ago, Democrats are now the ones with overpowering social media muscle and the ability to drive news.

The big picture: Former President Donald Trump’s digital exile and the reversal of national power has turned the tables on which party can keep a stranglehold on online conversation.

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to announce details of a plan to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
39 mins ago - Health

New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New research is bolstering the case for delaying second doses of coronavirus vaccines.

Why it matters: Most vulnerable Americans remain unvaccinated heading into March, when experts predict the more infectious virus variant first found in the U.K. could become dominant in the U.S.