International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Day: whole of society can make a difference

Albert Fritz

Western Cape Minister of Social Development

In commemorating International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Day, the Western Cape Government is proud to be at the forefront of delivering and supporting initiatives tackling the problem in the province.

FASD refer to the disorders that develop in an unborn baby if the mother consumes alcohol during the pregnancy. The alcohol consumed is absorbed into the blood stream, and is poisonous to the foetus, affecting its organs. Babies are usually born with physical and mental disabilities, which severely affect their life chances.

The prevalence of FASD in the province threatens our government’s commitment to improving education outcomes and the health of citizens in the province.

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of FASD in the world, and the Western Cape is particularly affected by the most serious of FASD, namely Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). We need to tackle this problem if we wish to break the cycle of poverty in many of our communities.

Key to our efforts in tackling the scourge is adopting a whole-of-society approach, which involves building partnerships with the private sector, NGOs, and individuals in our communities.

Our efforts include multi-pronged approach to addressing the challenge which involves the Provincial Departments of Social Development, Health, Education, and a number of NGOs.

The provincial department of Health is conducting invaluable research in conjunction with the University of Cape Town, Health Systems Trust and others in a three year study in Nyanga and Khayelitsha to look at the impact of our interventions on the burden of disease including FAS. The Western Cape liquor act, which seeks to restrict access to alcohol, is one of those policies that will be looked at during the evaluation.

The provincial department of Education has also embarked on a comprehensive training programme to help teachers identify special education needs, including children suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Learners with FAS may receive support from their class teacher or a Learning Support Teacher in a mainstream school or full-service, inclusive school. The department may also refer learners needing high levels of support to an appropriate Special School.

The provincial department of Social Development is working closely with and funds NGOs such as Foundation for Alcohol Related Research(FARR), Fas Facts, and Early Years to help reduce and prevent the harm caused by FAS. Just over R2.3-million is allocated to these three NGOs.

Each of these NGOs assists the department in various ways;

  • The FARR conducts prevalence studies on FASD and implements a Healthy Mother Healthy Baby program in West Coast and Beaufort West. This identifies high risk pregnant women before 20 weeks of pregnancy to assess health status, evaluates babies born to these mothers at 9 months of age for FASD and other health problems.
  • Early Years provides training and substance abuse awareness to ECD Practitioners, home based carers, and parents on how to handle children with FASD in ECD centres.
  • FAS FACTS conducts the Baby on Board program in the Cape Winelands and surrounding areas. Their services include training to communities on identification of FASD and support services to individuals and families.

This is just some of the many initiatives and programmes being offered by the Western Cape government in partnership with NGOs and individuals.

However the success of our interventions depends on communities and individuals working with us. Most importantly, we call on pregnant women to take responsibility for their unborn babies and to not drink alcohol. We will only be able to tackle FASD properly, if we continue to work “Better Together”.