Ignorance is the main contributing factor to high FASD prevalence in South Africa
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Cape Town - South Africa is notorious for having the highest prevalence rate of Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in the world, with rates ranging from 29 to 290 per 1 000 live births.
FASD organisations attribute these high levels to lack of prenatal education and ignorance.
September marks FASD awareness month, dedicated to educating parents and the public on the dangers associated with consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
Former researcher at the South African Medical Research Council Dr Sandra Marais, who has more than fifteen years of experience in trauma research, emphasised that research studies indicated that most mothers that consumed alcohol while pregnant did not do so out of malice, but were merely uninformed on the harm alcohol has on a developing foetus.
“Through several research projects we did in the Western Cape, in areas such as Ceres, we found that there was a lack of knowledge among the mothers on the dangers of drinking while pregnant. Apart from clear substance abuse there was also lack of good nutrition for these mothers,” said Marais.
Marais explained that while FASD affects people of all ethnicities and social classes, it is predominant in low-income areas, among people that are uneducated. FASD causes irreversible damage to the brain and central nervous system of a child, meaning that it can only be fought through prevention education.
“There is no alcohol that is safe for consumption during pregnancy, it is the percentage of alcohol and amount of consumption that will determine the extent of the damage,” said Marais.
FASD is described by FASfacts as being more than a disability – it is a social disorder, with immense cost implications for both government and society. A report released by FASfacts explained that the repercussions of having mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy, has detrimental repercussions for the unborn baby, its family, and society as a whole.
Founder of FASIC (FAS Information Centre) Vivien Lourens started the organisation after having adopted a daughter that was born with FASD. The mother of the now 25-year-old woman living with FAS, is also the author of a book titled Living With Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: Our Journey With Tisha.The book was written to assist parents and guardians of children living with FASD.
“While the challenges facing children born with FASD vary in severity, these challenges are not treatable or reversible. Children born with FASD live with disabilities and challenges for the rest of their lives,” said Lourens.
Lourens explained that children born with FASD suffer from learning challenges and behavioural problems. These children require an extra amount of patience, repetitiveness, and even basic things – such as chores, reading, and writing – often prove to be challenging.
“My daughter is a wonderful and loving individual, but due to FAS she is unable to read and write, making it almost impossible for her to enter the labour force. Many of the individuals living with FAS struggle to adjust into social schemes. Without FASD, they would have been open to many prospects,” added Lourens.
Due to children being born with behavioural problems and disabilities, including learning disabilities, FASD is seen as a contributing factor to early school drop-out, juvenile delinquency, poverty, crime, and chronic unemployment.