A recent study released by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows that nearly one in three people in the United States with Somali ancestry now live in Minnesota. However, along with a growing population, a growing problem concerns Somali residents in the Twin Cities.
As the Star Tribune reported, of the 85,700 Somalis living in the U.S., about 25,000 live in Minnesota, more than twice the 11,164 figured in the 2000 Census. Seattle, San Diego, and Columbus, OH also have large Somali populations, but none more that 10,500, according to the survey.
Among Somali residents in Minneapolis, concern is mounting about over autism rates among their children.
Controversial autism researcher Andrew Wakefield was recently invited to talk at a Somali community meeting, according to MPR.
Wakefield published a paper in the late 1990s linking autism with measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations. Other studies have subsequently discredited Wakefield's theory, but the hypothesis has seen vocal resurgence among celebrities like former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy.
"We cannot accept the damage that is being done to all of these children," Wakefield said to a crowd of about a hundred people. "It is completely unacceptable and the suffering you're going through."
A study published last year by the Minnesota Health Department looking at school records for 3 to 4 year-olds found that from 2005 to 2008 the proportion of Somali kids receiving autism services was as much as seven times higher than non-Somali children.
Though MPR noted that these numbers might be due to Somalis seeking more help from schools than the general population.
Wakefield, who lost his medical license in England, and has asked audience members to take part in a study that would involve collecting genetic information from local Somalis to be analyzed in a database. He said his only role in the study was raising funding.
Stephen Miles, a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota said that Wakefield has a track record of fraud.
"He's just not trustworthy," Miles said. "And it does not surprise me that he would seek out a population which is unsophisticated and desperate."
One of those who pledged to participate in the study, Shukri Osman, who has a 12 year-old son with autism, knows about Wakefield's past, but wants a solution.
"I know he's either some kind of controversial -- there [are] a lot of people are saying bad things about him," Osman said. "At least he's trying to give us answers and he's listening to us. We need doctors to listen to us."