South Africa has the highest rate of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASD) globally, studies show that over 11% of children born in South Africa have some level of FASD, which is 14% higher than the average incidence worldwide, according to research published in the American Medical Association journal JAMA Paediatrics. The 9th of September is International FASD Awareness Day and the Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (aware.org) is calling on all South Africans to join in on a global pledge to support the prevention of FASD and the harm caused by alcohol during pregnancy.
“Your baby’s tomorrow starts when you don’t drink. No amount of alcohol is safe if you are, or even think you may be pregnant. Alcohol can reach your baby within 20 minutes after taking a drink and is toxic for the unborn child. It may cause damage to any of the unborn child’s organs; the brain and the nervous system are the most vulnerable. Babies exposed to alcohol whilst in the womb are at risk of permanent brain damage,” says Ingrid Louw, CEO of aware.org.
Aware.org, a non-profit organisation (NPO) registered with the Department of Social Development (DSD), is fulfilling its mandate as the custodian of alcohol harm reduction, by raising awareness of and educating around FASD. This involves aware.org’s support of various programmes that are being implemented by its strategic partners, including DSD and the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research(FARR).
An estimated six million people in South Africa are affected by FASD and at least three million people are affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), according to research conducted by FARR.
If exposed to alcohol whilst in the womb, after birth the baby may have a whole range of physical, neurological and behavioural problems that become more and more evident with time. FASD lowers intellectual ability, an average IQ for a normal child is 100, a child with FAS may have an average IQ range of between 65 and 75.
In addition to intellectual deficits, a child with FAS may suffer from the following defects: growth retardation (before and after birth they are small for their age); any organ can be damaged, especially the brain, eyes, ears and heart and the baby’s facial features could be affected. FASD causes brain damage which results in lifelong problems such as learning disabilities, interpersonal relationship problems, developmental disabilities such as fine motor development, coordination, arithmetic and cause and effect reasoning. In addition, most of these children have attention and hyperactivity problems (with symptoms similar to ADHD).