Partnerships key to beating Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Sep 9, 2015

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Lisa Isaacs

AROUND the globe, bells rang at 9.09am as the world commemorated World Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Day yesterday.

In Cape Town, various events were held to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and the plight of individuals and families who struggle with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

In a conference held in Stellenbosch, experts from various organisations specialising in FAS gathered to discuss research done in the field and talk about preventative measures.

Vivien Lourens of the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Information Centre said there were many misconceptions and myths around FAS, which also fed into the misdiagnosis of patients.

“This day is commemorated all over the world. We use this to try and create awareness and prevention.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding and misdiagnosis. The spectrum ranges from severe to very mild, with some being misdiagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). FAS has to be diagnosed by a specialist,” she said.

Lourens said practical help afforded to those with the syndrome was limited.

South African Medical Association public sector provincial vice-chairperson Ghadija Hayat said education was key in preventing the syndrome.

She said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi would be instrumental in driving the fight against the syndrome.

“When mothers are pregnant, they need to know about the risks of consuming alcohol.

“We need more surveillance at a primary health-care level and more research is needed so we can rework current guidelines and policies,” she said.

She said it was essential that mothers had access to a support system that encouraged them not to drink alcohol.

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said helping to raise awareness of FAS is a key focus for her department.

She yesterday visited the Khayelitsha Community Health Centre along with Social Development MEC Albert Fritz to address expectant mothers about the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy.

Mbombo said the impact alcohol has on an unborn child cannot be stressed enough.

“The focus was in Khayelitsha, a community which has been identified as one of the areas where high-risk alcohol harms are present, combined with underage drinking.

“We want to eliminate the harm alcohol causes to our children, FAS is 100 percent preventable and 100 percent permanent,” Mbombo said.

Fritz said building partnerships with the private sector, NGOs, and individuals in our communities was key to tackling the problem. The provincial department of social development, along with partners, funds eight NGOs to tackle FAS.

“Just more than R5.5 million is allocated to these eight NGOs, which are currently assisting 3 853 families with therapy, counselling and developmental services,” said Fritz.

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