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Foetal Alcohol Syndrome in the spotlight

World Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Day is commemorated each year at nine minutes past nine on the ninth day of the ninth month (9.09am, 09/09) to draw attention to the fact that women should not drink alcohol while pregnant. Alcohol consumed by a pregnant woman enters the unborn baby’s bloodstream, which in turn can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the foetus.
An estimated 25 000 babies are born with FAS every year in South Africa, this is the highest reported incidence in the world. FAS is the main cause of severe mental disabilities and stunted physical growth in babies. In some areas within South Africa, FAS has been reported to be as high as 12.2%, in comparison to other countries, prevalence of FAS varies from 0.1% to 0.8%. While the figures give some idea of the incidence of FAS in South Africa, a large number of cases are undocumented, with some experts predicting foetal alcohol exposure to be between three to five times higher than the reported rate.
“Initiatives like World Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Day are vital in the fight against FAS, which is found in all races and across all socio-economic groups,” Dorothea Gertse, a social worker at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children said.
“Continuous intervention, education and counselling is required. We often treat pregnant women with alcohol and drug dependence issues. By the time they reach us for help, they are so downtrodden and desperate to escape their reality that the safety of their unborn child is not a priority,” Gertse said. “The women often have no idea about the long-term effects and expense of having to raise a mentally disabled child.”
Rural areas in the Western Cape and towns in the Northern Cape like De Aar are the hardest hit by FAS, however it also affects babies born in urban areas, where prevalence amongst pregnant teens and young mothers is high.
“Being aware of FAS is not enough; drastic steps need to be taken to curb and erode this perfectly preventable disability,” says Gertse. “FAS is 100% avoidable, so much so, that it could be one of the major health problems permanently removed from our country’s health risk concerns.”
Basic health messages – source:
•    Stop drinking alcohol if you are thinking of falling pregnant.
•    Stop drinking alcohol if you are pregnant.
•    If you cannot stop, drink less and seek professional help.
•    Whatever the mother drinks so does the unborn baby.
•    Alcohol harms unborn babies who will need special care all their lives because they could suffer from physical defects, abnormal facial anomalies and be mentally challenged.
•    Babies will not develop Foetal Alcohol Syndrome if the mother does not drink alcohol.
•    If you drink alcohol do not fall pregnant, use contraceptives correctly.


Distributed by Be-cause Integrated Communications:
Beverley Houston
021 447 1082 / 082 824 8617

On behalf of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children:
Director: Shaheema McLeod

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