The Western Cape government has identified alcohol as a game changer with the level of alcohol abuse remaining unacceptably high and the effects placing tremendous pressure on the healthcare system, according to provincial Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo.
"This government has seen the devastating effects of alcohol and substance abuse among the people we serve."
Mbombo highlighted that South Africa is one of top five heaviest drinking nations in the world, adding that it costs the government R17bn to deal with alcohol abuse.
"This is exactly why we have seen the need to streamline our efforts and make alcohol and substance abuse prevention a focus."
She said that alcohol abuse places tremendous pressure on the healthcare system.
"Injuries and interpersonal violence are one of the biggest contributors to the province’s quadruple burden of disease and this is mostly due to alcohol and substance abuse related."
She said that alcohol also remains a key risk factor for injuries from road traffic accidents.
Mbombo further pointed out the impact of drinking on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), where alcohol crosses the placental barrier during pregnancy and causes severe mental and physical stunting in the foetus. This affects growth, weight, head size, facial features, brain and organ development.
"Maternal and child health is the bedrock for a functioning health system."
She said her department intends to strengthen the first 1 000 days of life project especially in the metro.
"Every pregnant mother will be tracked in the public sector from antenatal care – delivery – post natal care – up to the child’s early development."
Mbombo said the aim of this is, amongst others, to reduce smoking and harmful alcohol use in pregnancy, provide good antenatal and postnatal care while improving breastfeeding rates.
Infographic: Alcohol: the good, bad and ugly
Providing health services is a truly complex business, she said.
"Health is said to be the face of service in any government," Mbombo said on Wednesday while delivering her maiden budget speech for the 2015/16 financial year.
The health department was allotted the largest slice of the budget pie within the province, receiving 36% of the provincial budget.
She said her vision for health in the province is premised on the promotion of wellness and preventive measures.
"If we educate and create awareness about the importance of looking after oneself, we will be able to bring down the numbers of those who end up at our healthcare facilities."