FAS prevalence underestimated in South Africa

“The 15th October is National FAS Day and is an opportunity to once again highlight the incidence of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in South Africa and the need for urgent, effective educational programmes to combat the problem.

The Northern Cape Province is often referred to as the province with the highest recorded foetal alcohol syndrome rate in the world based on the FAS rates in Upington and De Aar according to prevalence studies conducted in these areas by the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR),” says FARR CEO Leana Olivier.

However, says Olivier, labelling the Northern Cape may be misleading, “While studies have been conducted in select other areas, such as Wellington, the towns in the Cape Winelands District, Aurora, Bonnievale, Robertson, Ashton, Montagu and a couple of communities in Gauteng, we would need to conduct similar prevalence studies across the rest of South Africa. 

We cannot underestimate the prevalence of FAS across our country and the studies conducted in the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng goes a long way to helping us understand FAS and develop effective solutions.”

Additional media reports

According to recent media reports, a developing trend in the Eastern Cape involves pregnant teenage girls in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality drinking heavily so their babies can be born with FAS enabling them to qualify for a R1 200 disability grant rather than the R280 child grant.

“These types of reports indicate the urgent need for intervention programmes throughout the country and studies to determine which groups are most at risk.  FARR is preparing to launch an investigation into the Eastern Cape reports and look into conducting a prevalence study in this province,” says the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) spokesperson Adrian Botha. 

“More studies of this kind are needed in order to gauge an accurate level of FAS prevalence throughout South Africa and what measures need to be put in place to overcome this issue.”

Through funding from the ARA, totaling  in excess of R15 million over the past 15 years, FARR has been able to conduct these FAS prevalence studies in the Northern Cape and has recorded the most notable successes in the area of reducing FAS, with a 30% reduction reported since 1997. Based on these results, FARR has, throughout the year, extended its programmes to include other areas in the Northern and Western Cape.

FAS prevalence programme

Currently, FARR has implemented a three-year FAS prevalence programme in the capital of the Northern Cape, Kimberley.  The programme is targeted towards the Roodepan and Galeshewe areas where the 14 primary schools in these communities are participating in the study.  The outcome of this FAS Prevalence Study will provide the Northern Cape with its third FAS rate and will bring this province closer to obtaining a FAS prevalence rate for the entire region.

A new FARR centre was opened in Prince Alfred’s Hamlet in the Western Cape earlier this year and the highly successful Healthy Mother Healthy Baby (HMHB) programme has been introduced in Beaufort West and Prince Alfred’s Hamlet.

“These are areas with a highly condensed prevalence of FAS especially in De Aar where 120 out of every 1 000 people had been diagnosed with FAS and this figure now being reduced to 80 per 1000 after FARR’s intervention,” says Olivier.  “We have been able to further extend our prevalence studies and awareness programmes into the rest of the province and the Western Cape because of the network and resources FARR has been able to generate in these areas, as well as ARA funding.”

Botha has often emphasised the misconception that FAS doesn’t transcend all boundaries including race and class.  “People think that FAS only affects certain parts of the population and occurs only in particular areas,” says Botha.  “As we don’t have definitive evidence indicating the amount of alcohol which will cause FAS, I always recommend pregnant women err on the side of caution and don’t consume. We believe that it is not safe to consume any alcohol during pregnancy.”

For more information on ARA please visit the ARA website or FARR.

(Press release, October 2012)

Read more: 

Binge drinking in Africa a crisis

Early signs of pregnancy

Alcohol during pregnancy cause wide range of problems

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