Today, 9 September 2019, Western Cape Minister of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez will mark International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Day with site visits to services rendered for FASD, substance abuse and related social challenges in the Swartland and Cederberg communities.
The first International FASD Day was held on 9 September 1999 and was also commemorated in South Africa.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) as the most severe form of these disorders, is the most common cause of permanent mental disability in the world. According to the World Health Organisation 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, with rates as high as 28% in some communities. It is estimated that our country’s overall rate might be as high is 6% (FARR, 2019).
“We need to continue to drive the awareness of the damage that alcohol does to our pregnant women however, we must not forget that FASD is exacerbated by other socio-economic circumstances that require intervention,” Minister Fernandez said.
The Department of Social Development’s budget for the substance abuse program for the19/20 financial year is R109. 518 million. Furthermore, DSD funds 6 NGO-run inpatient treatment facilities,13 community-based treatment NGOs which render treatment across 30 sites, 21 NGOs which render early intervention services from 29 sites and 10 NGOs which render aftercare services across 16 sites.
The Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) notes, that approximately 78% of pregnancies are unplanned in South Africa. As a result of this, women often do not realise that they are pregnant and therefore continue to use alcohol, especially during the first trimester. This fetus is very vulnerable during this time, as most of the organs develop during this period.
The brain is the most vulnerable organ. For this reason, all children with FASD have some form of permanent brain damage, presenting as developmental delays, learning and behavioural problems. This condition is permanent and cannot be cured by medication.
For a variety of reasons, such as unplanned pregnancies, limited resources, attitudinal challenges and lack of knowledge, women often make us of antenatal services very late during their pregnancies and therefore further delay the possibility of getting information about the dangers of substance abuse, FASD and the necessary support.
Minister Fernandez said: “There are still many myths and untrue stories being told around FASD. Some people still believe that a woman must be an alcoholic to have a child with FASD. The prevention message that must be spread is: No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. FASD causes permanent damage, but it is 100% preventable if you do not drink during pregnancy.”
Under the leadership of Minister Sharna Fernandez, the Department remains committed to continuously working to expand the reach and quality of its substance abuse treatment and intervention services to all those in need.
Anybody needing more information or assistance can contact us on the www.heretohelp.co.za website, or the DSD hotline on 0800 220 250.