Over 11% of children born in South Africa have some level of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASD), which is 14% higher than the average incidence worldwide.

This is according to research published in the American Medical Association journal JAMA Paediatrics.

This International FASD Awareness Day (9 September) the Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (aware.org) calls on all South Africans to join a global pledge to support the prevention of FASD.

No amount of alcohol is safe 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,” says Ingrid Louw, CEO of aware.org.

“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.”

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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)[2].

An estimated six million people in South Africa are affected by FASD and at least three million people are affected by Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), according to research conducted by FARR.

Alcohol can reach your baby within 20 minutes after taking a drink and is toxic for the unborn child

The effects of foetal alcohol syndrome disorder

If exposed to alcohol in the womb, a baby may have a whole range of physical, neurological and behavioural problems that become more and more evident with time.

FASD lowers intellectual ability. While 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
  • 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).

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 A preventable birth defect

“FASD is the leading cause of preventable birth defects and developmental disabilities in children around the world. FASD does not discriminate according to socio-economic status. It is more common than Down syndrome, spina bifida and autism combined,” says Louw,

“The really sad thing is that, although the damage caused by FASD is permanent, it is 100% preventable. Any amount of alcohol can cause FASD and all you need to do to prevent it is not drink when you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.[4] “Your child’s tomorrow starts today and what you do today affects your child’s tomorrow.”

In September, aware.org in partnership with the DSD aim to raise awareness about the negative impact of drinking alcohol when pregnant.

Roundtable community dialogues are being held in nine provinces for nine consecutive days culminating at an International FASD Awareness Day event at Birchwood in Johannesburg on the ninth day of the ninth month in the ninth province – Gauteng.

Participants will then be encouraged to sign a pledge scroll. The Pledge will be live streamed, and members of the public are urged to join in by clicking on the following aware.org social media handles from 08h40 on Sunday, 9 September 2018 on Twitter: @Awareorg and Facebook: AwareZA.

Sources://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2649222 and https://www.farrsa.org.za/

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