By Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health:
Today marks World Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder Day; a day where we create awareness amongst expectant mothers to avoid the use of alcohol while pregnant.
At 09:09 today people across the globe commemorated annual World Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Day. Bells were rung worldwide, in every time zone, to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and the plight of individuals and families who struggle with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
FASD is fully preventable, but yet it continues to be a serious health issue in the Western Cape due to women consuming alcohol during their pregnancy.
The severe impact of alcohol to 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.
The crucial message we took into these communities was simple: The impact of FASD on children, is irreversible. Drinking while pregnant is a massive injustice to an unborn child. In the Western Cape, the syndrome is seen as part of the wider problem of alcohol abuse that carries a huge overall burden of disability due to injuries, often from interpersonal violence, and disease.
Raising awareness of the syndrome, and the overall dangers of alcohol to the general public through public campaigns, is the first and very important step towards prevention.
“Under my leadership, we have identified alcohol harms reduction as game changer. Raising awareness on FAS will be a big focus. We want to eliminate the harm alcohol causes to our children, FAS is 100% preventable and 100% permanent” says Minister Mbombo
Evidence shows young people experiment with alcohol before any other substances. One can easily see this trend based on the amount of young people who drink before the legal age in our communities. Very often teenagers including adults of legal drinking age fall pregnant, without realising, and then continue to consume alcohol.
Alcohol contributes to the breakdown in family units, a rise in gang related activities, and overall decline in social cohesion.
This is why the Western Cape Government (WCG) is prioritizing the reduction of alcohol related harms through Provincial Strategic goal 3. PSG3 focuses on “Increasing wellness, safety and tackle social ills”.
Tackling this burden, the WCG will focus on the following areas to effect this game changer: Policies, legislative regulations, community based interventions, road-based interventions and the alcohol economy.
It requires a whole of society approach to tackle this burden on society. The WCG follows a transversal approach by working together across departments to achieve our ultimate goal of reducing alcohol related harms on society.
The Departments of Health, Transport and Public Works, Community Safety, Social Development, and Cultural Affairs and Sport; are working together to achieve this. However, it needs commitment from communities, and families to curb underage drinking; illegal shebeens; responsible supply by industry; and effective policing and city by laws.
The onus is on all of us to effect the much needed changes in our communities.