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Perspectives of intellectual disability in South Africa: epidemiology, policy, services for children and adults

Adnams, Colleen M

doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32833cfc2d
Mental retardation and developmental disorders: Edited by Nick Bouras

Purpose of review This review aims to summarize data published in the scientific literature and available on official websites on the epidemiology, policies and services for children and adults with intellectual disability in South Africa.

Recent findings There is a paucity of published literature on intellectual disability in South Africa. The lack of evidence-based publications within the prescribed review period of 12–18 months precludes an accurate description of the prevailing epidemiology and burden of disablement in this country. The few studies yielding epidemiological data were conducted prior to 2002. These suggest that the prevalence rate of intellectual disability is greater than in high-income countries. There is little data describing intellectual disability geographically and across population and age groups, further rendering it difficult to identify inequalities and differences in distribution. There is a high burden of preventable causes of intellectual disability.

Summary Despite the existence of policies and services for the population with intellectual disabilities in South Africa, recognition of and provision for their needs carries low priority. It is imperative that the information gap in epidemiology and the burden of disability be recognized in order to plan for and meet the needs of those with intellectual disability across the lifespan.

Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Correspondence to Colleen M. Adnams, FCPaed(SA), Professor of Intellectual Disability, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Groote Schuur Hospital J-Block, Anzio Road, Observatory, 7925, Cape Town, South Africa Tel: +27 21 404 2166; fax: +27 21 448 8158; e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.