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Foetal alcohol syndrome

Nobody owes anybody a living, but everybody is entitled to a chance. Jack Dempseye

For most, the term foetal alcohol syndrome conjures up images of the poor, the uneducated; of chronic alcoholics for whom being with child does not equal being without alcohol. However, the frightening reality is that this condition effects all socioeconomic groups and is on the increase globally.

WHAT IS FOETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME?

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), first identified in the United States in 1973, is now more commonly referred to as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). The term encompasses a wide range of mental and physical deficiencies seen in children whose mothers consumed alcohol while pregnant.

Alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading cause of birth defects and mental retardation. Children born to mothers who drank alcohol during pregnancy may suffer one or many problems as a result. The first indications that a baby has FASD include low birth weight and a small head and small eyes. Affected babies often display delayed development, auditory and visual problems and heart defects. The effects of alcohol consumption on the child are linked with the level of alcohol use as well as the stage of pregnancy at which alcohol was consumed. Even if no physical features and severe mental retardation are present initially, the effects may only become evident in later years when behavioural problems occur. These range from hyperactivity and learning problems to more subtle struggles with judgment, problem solving and memory, all of which persist into adult life. Whatever the severity of the conditions, there is no cure for FASD but, the condition is 100% preventable.

HOW MUCH ALCOHOL IS SAFE DURING PREGNANCY?

When you drink, your baby drinks – suffering the effects of the alcohol severely. Abstinence is the only way to ensure that no FASD occurs. Be it social drinking, so-called normal drinking or occasional binge drinking, all alcohol crosses the placenta. Since the baby has no developed blood filtration system, it is totally unprotected from this alcohol. Damage to the structure and location of rapidly developing cells occurs in various regions of the brain. The areas that might be affected by alcohol exposure depend on which areas are developing at the time the alcohol is consumed. Since a baby’s brain and central nervous system develop throughout the pregnancy, there is no ‘safe’ time to drink.

HOW SEVERE IS THE PROBLEM?

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is rife in all countries where alcohol is consumed.
South Africa has one of the highest incidences of FAS in the world. In 1997, the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) was established as a non-governmental, not for profit organisation. . FARR founder Denis Viljoen states that at any given time 500,000 South Africans are suffering from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). FARR is focused on the prevention of FASD through the provision of awareness and prevention programmes, clinical diagnostic services, epidemiological research, education, training and surveillance. A five-year study undertaken in the Northern Cape town of Aar showed more than an one in 10 babies aged up to 12 months suffered from a severe form of FAS. Just as worrying was the finding that up to 50 percent of children were in some way afflicted by FAS, which is characterised by brain damage, facial deformities and growth deficits.

Visit FARR at www.farr-sa.co.za
Also visit -www.fasfacts.org.za


International studies estimate that in the United Kingdom, one in every 100 children is born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder each year. This number is greater than the combined numbers of children born with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and spina bifida. NOFAS-UK is an organisation committed to creating awareness as to the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy as well as offering specialised support to FASD suffers and their families. Visit www.nofas-uk.org for more information.

Also visit - www.fasaware.co.uk

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