SA again tops an international list of misery, this time with the world’s highest prevalence of foetal alcohol syndrome, reports MedicalBrief.
Authorities are concerned about the high levels of alcohol abuse among pregnant women in the Eastern Cape, specifically Gqeberha, which has the highest number of babies affected by foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in South Africa, according to City Press.
FAS affects children in various ways: babies may have low birth weights and small heads. They may not grow or gain weight as well as other children. The syndrome can cause heart, bone and kidney problems, and vision problems and hearing loss are common. Seizures and other neurological problems such as learning disabilities, poor balance and coordination may also occur.
An FAS study conducted in Gqeberha showed the FAS prevalence rate of 130 to 1 000 births.
Mzukisi Solani, spokesperson for the provincial department of social development, said FAS affected three million people in the country, and the Eastern Cape had the highest number of cases.
“The latest global statistics are concerning for South Africa. Out of 187 countries, SA has the highest prevalence rate of FAS, at 111 per 1 000 people,” he said.
Despite this concern, a situational and gap analysis study commissioned by Unicef found limited public awareness among professionals and the general public about FAS. This made it difficult for early identification and the provision of appropriate intervention services.
Social Development MEC Siphokazi Lusithi and Social Development Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu have spearheaded a campaign to educate the Helenvale community in Gqeberha about the dangers associated with drinking alcohol while pregnant and breastfeeding.
Mgwebi Msiya, spokesperson of the Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB) said FAS was 100% irreversible, but also 100% preventable.
“No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy,” he said. To highlight international FAS Day (9 September), the ECLB had launched campaigns in Gqeberha to educate women and communities about the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. They were visiting schools, clinics, liquor outlets and malls to raise awareness of FAS, he added. The campaign’s theme was Protect your unborn baby, do not drink during pregnancy.
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