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Challenges and strategies in addressing foetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Sameera Casmod |
13 September 2023 | 10:06am SAST
2-min read

Picture: Ohio Department of Health

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a group of conditions that can occur when a mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol passes through the placenta, resulting in various mental and physical problems for the baby. The most severe form of FASD is known as foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

FASD is a global issue. This problem is prevalent in South Africa, and in particular the Northern Cape.

Although there is no cure for people born with FAS, there are ways to prevent the problem. Organisations require funds to address crucial aspects such as residential facilities and job opportunities for individuals living with FASD.

MEC Sharna Fernandez of Western Cape Social Development discussed these issues in an interview with Radio Islam International.

MEC Fernandez noted that FASD is a worldwide problem, but its prevalence varies by region. In South Africa as a whole, the prevalence is around 6%. The Northern Cape has notably high rates, with some communities reporting rates as high as 282 per 1 000 live births. The Western Cape itself has areas with rates as high as 250 live births per 1 000, which means that 25% of children born could be affected by FASD or FAS.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for FASD, explained MEC Fernandez. Once a baby is born with FASD, it requires ongoing care and support, as affected individuals may experience developmental delays, learning difficulties, and behavioural problems throughout their lives. Early intervention and prevention are crucial, and this includes educating pregnant women about the dangers of consuming alcohol.

MEC Fernandez explained that budget constraints pose a significant challenge in addressing FASD comprehensively. While more funding is needed, the country is facing fiscal difficulties. The lack of education and awareness, especially in rural areas, contributes to the problem. The Western Cape Department of Agriculture has initiated a program aimed at educating women on farms about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Efforts are underway through Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) such as the Foundation for Alcohol-Related Research (FAR), Early Years Services, and Fast Facts to raise awareness and provide support to pregnant women, MEC Fernandez said. These organisations focus on community-based awareness, prevention, and intervention.

While funding remains a challenge, MEC Fernandez emphasised the importance of education, early intervention, and prevention. The ultimate goal is to reduce the prevalence of FASD, as South Africa has one of the highest rates in the world.

Listen to the full interview on Sabaahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat:


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