Welcome to the world’s FAS capital

2011-02-17 13:37

Despite a 30% decrease in the number of reported cases of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), De Aar in Northern Cape remains the world’s FAS capital, research has found.

The FAS rate has dropped from 122 in 1 000 children to 85 in 1 000. A three year study by the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) attributes the decrease to the success of the “Healthy mother healthy baby” programme, aimed at encouraging women not to drink during pregnancy.

But there is still a long way to go because De Aar is “ridden with poverty and unemployment,” says FARR CEO Leana Olivier.

The results of the FARR study have been submitted to the American Journal of Science.

FAS is a pattern of mental and physical defects that can develop in a foetus when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy.

“The main effect of FAS is permanent damage to the central nervous system especially to the brain,” according to Professor Solly Rataemane, University of Limpopo head of psychiatry.

“Children with full-blown FAS in De Aar have an IQ of between 65 and 75 – the normal IQ is 100 – and the children have severe learning disabilities,” says Olivier.

Excessive alcohol ingestion can also stunt foetal growth or weight and damage neurons and brain structures which can result in psychological or behavioural problems and cause other physical damage.

Maternal drinking is on the increase, not just in De Aar, but in all provinces with higher levels of drinking among rural than urban women. However, men still make up the largest number of alcohol abusers.

Rataemane says 15.1 million people in the US abuse alcohol, 4.6 million of which are women. In South Africa, 2.46 million people abuse alcohol (see footnote). "Alcohol is the most abused substance in the [SADC] region followed by cannabis.

Cases of alcohol abuse account for most admissions for treatment throughout the region with underage drinking, binge drinking and drinking during pregnancy remaining the key areas of concern, all of which points to risky and problem drinking.

A person who is a risky or problem drinker is “a person who drinks continuously irrespective of the harm to him/herself and despite advice from others, tries to resolve problems using alcohol”, says Rataemane.

Risky behaviour includes long-term heavy drinking, heavy drinking episodes (people who drink too much from time to time) and drinking and driving.

Olivier says the research on alcohol abuse in South Africa remains poor with most speakers at the “Understanding Alcohol abuse Workshop” hosted by SAB, referring to research from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU).

The workshop was held in Hyde Park this week.

Underage drinking, drunk driving, FAS, selling of illegal alcohol and violence and crime associated with alcohol abuse are major challenges in South Africa according to Marcus Grant of the International Centre for Alcohol Policies (ICAP), who was also in attendance.

» This is an updated version of the story first published on www.citypress.co.za. It was incorrectly reported that the 15.1 million was a South African figure.

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