The accounting officer at the provincial Department of Social Development, Robert Macdonald, was briefing the Standing Committee on Social Development who were discussing the department’s annual report for the financial year 2018/2019.
“Binge drinking at the weekends seems to be the biggest risk factor. I think there is a lot of worry about papsaks and those sorts of cheap alcohol, but all alcohol is cheap here in South Africa, and that’s a big problem.”
He said: “The issue with FASD is that the damage is primarily done in the first trimester, and often what we find is that women are drinking without being aware that they are pregnant.”
Macdonald was responding to a query from the EFF’s Nosipho Makamba-Botya, who quizzed him about the programmes the department had in place ensure that women working on farms were discouraged from alcohol abuse during pregnancy.
Makamba-Botya said: “The issue of FASD, which has previously been reported to be high in the province, mostly affects children who live on wine farms as a result of their mothers drinking alcohol while they are pregnant.”
She quoted figures from the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR), which said in a previous report that FASD was the most common cause of permanent mental disability in the world.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the prevalence of FASD in the world is projected to be 1.5%. South Africa has the highest reported FASD prevalence rates in the world, as high as 28% in some communities.
In his response, Macdonald said: “It is a very difficult situation because alcohol is exceptionally cheap in South Africa, and that is probably one of the biggest problems we have.”
He said the interventions the department funded to assist those afflicted with the condition were themed at getting the women on the farms to drink less.
“If women are very very thin and have a very low weight, they are much more susceptible to FAS from drinking heavily during pregnancy,” said Macdonald.
The department’s Director of Special Programmes, Denzil Cowley, said: “In order to diagnose a child with the disorder, you need to have medical professionals. There’s quite a wide-ranging battery of tests that they have to carry out before they can diagnose a person with that condition.
“So one of the organisations we fund specifically runs programmes for us when pregnant mothers come for their check ups, to help and advise these mothers on drinking while pregnant.”@MwangiGithahu