Women who ingest large amounts of alcohol while pregnant cause irreparable damage to their babies. In South Africa, over 6-million people live with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – this is the highest in the world.
The country’s long history of trauma incurred by ruthless racial segregation continues to affect the lives of many people. Alcohol is a way to soothe pain and to fill empty time. It’s highly addictive and the elevated rate of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder suggests that South Africans are facing an alcoholism crisis.
According to FAS South Africa, the syndrome is more than a disability. “It’s a social disorder that causes many of the expensive problems which plague governments and all of us.” Consequences of foetal alcohol syndrome include early school drop-out, chronic unemployment, mental illness, violence, theft and further substance abuse.
Alcoholism is an illness, and pregnant women who consume large quantities of it are not wilfully harming their children. However, there are solutions on hand.
Prevention programmes, such as awareness campaigns for pregnant women and early diagnoses of alcoholism are key. This is a preventable crisis. South Africa has to have a multi-pronged approach to dealing with foetal alcohol syndrome and should children have the tell-tale signs of the syndrome, interventions such as a positive parenting programme could be implemented. Moreover, play-based learning and the care and attention of skilled and caring adults could help form new neural pathways, depending on the severity of brain damage. Early intervention, and the likes of what Cotlands offers, is key.
*September 9th is International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day. The number ‘9’ is symbolic of the nine months of pregnancy. In some parts of the world, bells are run at 9:09am to mark the day.