Scan of the brains of two six-year-old children show the damage done by foetal alcohol syndrome. The brain on the left is normal, that on the right is permanently damaged.

Cape Town – There was a huge need to prioritise helping women to understand and prevent Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said on Tuesday.

Following the long weekend which celebrated Women’s Day on Sunday, the ACDP noted with concern the country’s high prevalence of FASD, an umbrella term for a range of permanent conditions that are as a result of unborn babies being exposed to alcohol during their mothers’ pregnancies.

Cheryllyn Dudley, ACDP Whip and MP, said during the National Women’s Day debate in Parliament that this was unacceptable and a cause for concern. “This disorder with its far reaching effects is entirely in the hands of women themselves but the existing impact on children and society is in all of our hands,” she said.

According to the Foundation for Foetal Alcohol Research (FARR), FASD which is preventable, affected about two million South Africans. As a result of the disorder, affected children experience a range of health and mental issues.

FARR’s research, Dudley pointed out, stated that FASD was the most common birth defect in the country, with between 60,000-72,000 babies born with the condition, which was known to be one of the leading causes of mental retardation.

More women needed to be made aware of the risks for their unborn babies associated with drinking during their pregnancies, she said.

“Children with behavioural problems add to the stresses and strains in families, communities and government budgets – including social development, health, education, safety and security, justice and correctional services to name just a few,” Dudley said.

“Women are empowered when they avoid any possible damage to their children through alcohol consumption,” she said, pointing out the need for more intensive training programmes and workshops around this health issue for both mothers and professional healthcare providers, including social workers, around the dangers of FASD and how it could be prevented.