An estimated 25 000 babies are born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) every year in South Africa -- the highest reported incidence in the world, an NGO said.
Francois Grobbelaar, chief executive of FASfacts which raises awareness about FAS, said the disease was one of the main causes of severe mental disabilities and stunted physical growth in babies in South Africa.
"Drastic steps need to be taken to curb and erode this perfectly preventable disability," said Grobbelaar, ahead of World Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Day.
"FAS is found in all races and across all socio-economic groups," he said.
Cape worst hit
Rural areas in the Western Cape and towns in the Northern Cape like De Aar are among the hardest hit by this disease, Grobbelaar said. The disease also affects babies born in urban areas, with a high prevalence among pregnant teens.
The town of De Aar has the highest recorded incidence of FAS with 122 babies for every 1 000 live births.
"Through continuous intervention and life-changing strategies, FAS, an irreversible disability, could be one of the major health problems permanently removed from our country's health risk issues," Grobbelaar said.
FASfacts will host an education event with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille at Groenheuwel Primary, near Paarl, to mark World Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Day.
SAB comes to the party
Meanwhile, the South African Breweries (SAB) have announced a plan of action aimed at tackling alcohol abuse in South Africa with SAB MD and Chairman, Norman Adami, claiming that while the company was proud of the quality products that it produced but that he and the company were concerned at the way in which alcohol was being abused.
“Beer has been around for over 6 000 years and plays an important role in society and our business has a tangible economic impact on the South Africa economy and contribution to the fiscus. We are unashamedly proud of that.
“However, a small percentage of South Africans abuse alcohol and this has a disproportionately negative impact on society. We view this as completely unacceptable because if something is not good for South Africa, then it is ultimately not good for our business. Alcohol abuse remains high in this country and it’s clear just how damaging the implications of this abuse can be to society.”
He spoke of the launch of a ‘new multi-faceted effort to combat alcohol abuse and its negative effects on society’.
What the programmes involve
The new programmes are aimed at tackling drinking and driving, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and underage drinking and are based on a thorough review that indicated the need for targeted actions which go beyond communications and education.
SAB’s announced alcohol initiatives will include the following:
- In October, Transport Month, SAB will launch, in conjunction with local and provincial law enforcement, the first of a number of Alcohol Evidence Centres, which will have cutting edge equipment and facilities aimed at assisting in enforcement and prosecution of drunk drivers.
- A hard hitting advertising campaign will be launched in October to raise awareness of drink driving issues.
- SAB will unveil a new NGO partnership aimed at addressing FAS issues in problem areas in the Western and Northern Cape through a series of prevention and education initiatives.
- A new commercial code of good practice for working with trade partners and customers has also been launched, which will aim to drive more responsible trading practices (for example, not selling to minors).
- Significant attention has also gone to the company’s marketing practices which, working alongside existing initiatives, will include a new commitment to removal of billboard advertising from areas of high abuse.
Leading by example
According to Dr Vincent Maphai, Executive Director of Corporate Affairs and Transformation, the company’s intention is to set the highest standards of example.
“We know that our first responsibility is to set our own house in order and we are aiming to lead by example, beginning with our employees. When we combine our investment against this programme with our enterprise development and corporate social responsibility efforts, SAB will now be one of, if not the largest, corporate investors in community and social upliftment in South Africa”.
In formulating its strategy SAB also expressed a commitment to championing co-regulation and normalisation of the liquor industry. Increased resources are being invested in supporting industry regulators, the licensing process and self regulation within the industry.
“We are South Africa’s leading alcoholic beverage company and we have the responsibility to lead the attack on alcohol abuse. We have a business uniquely equipped to do so and we must look at making real, sustainable impact, focusing on helping the innocent, who are most often the victims of alcohol abuse. We recognise the importance of reaching a balance between inspiring people to do the right thing, encouraging self regulation and supporting enforcement” Maphai continued.
“We have listened to the response from local communities and we have developed a strategy to tackle alcohol abuse that takes its learning’s from home and from around the world, which we believe is truly distinctive. We intend to make a real impact and drive real change,” he added.
(Sapa, September 2009)
FAS a major problem in SA