Perspectives of intellectual disability in Latin American countries: epidemiology, policy, and services for children and adults

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Purpose of reviewThe prevalence of intellectual disability is an estimated 1–4% worldwide. Etiological factors such as malnutrition, lack of perinatal care, and exposure to toxic and infectious agents, which are more common in low-income and middle-income (LAMI) countries, may contribute to a higher prevalence of intellectual disability in Latin America. This review summarizes the data on intellectual disability coming from Latin America, which is published in scientific journals and is available from official websites and discusses potential health policy and services implications of these studies.Recent findingsMethodologically rigorous studies on intellectual disability in Latin America are lacking. This paucity of basic epidemiological information is a barrier to policy and services development and evaluation around intellectual disability. Only two studies, one from Chile and another from Jamaica, allow for adequate population estimates of intellectual disability. Interestingly, the countries with the highest scientific production in Latin America, Brazil and Mexico, did not produce the most informative research in epidemiology, policy or services related to intellectual disability.SummaryThe main conclusion of this review is that a lack of scientific evidence makes it difficult to properly characterize the context of intellectual disability in Latin America. Insufficient data is also a barrier to policy and services development for governments in Latin America. Although recently there have been efforts to develop government programs to meet the needs of the intellectual disability population in Latin America, the effectiveness of these programs is questionable without proper evaluation. There is a need for studies that characterize the needs of people with intellectual disability specifically in Latin America, and future research in this area should emphasize how it can inform current and future policies and services for people with intellectual disability.

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