South Africa: Alcohol Remains Big Threat to the Unborn
Alcohol is the biggest threat to unborn babies in South Africa. The country has the highest recorded prevalence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in the world.
The prevalence rates range from 29 to 290 affected children per 1000 live births. The rates vary a lot across the country, with the Western Cape province recording the highest.
So far, the policy response to mitigate this problem has been inadequate. Political leaders are failing their communities and future generations. While a range of policy documents and clauses exist to tackle the problem, lack of coherence between these has made them less effective. Moreover, lack of formulation and implementation of the alcohol policy best buys, as recommended by the World Health Organization, has allowed FASD to reach epidemic levels in South Africa.
Another problem is that most of the current prevention and management approaches are informed by generic statements embedded in different policy documents. The association of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder with other genetic conditions ignores the socio-economic factors linked to it. This means a comprehensive approach to addressing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder doesn’t exist.
Research presented by The Conversation highlights the need for policymakers to develop a specific policy and to address the fact that current interventions and services are uncoordinated and fragmented.
Key points for a specific FASD policy in South Africa
- Awareness and education on the dangers of using alcohol during pregnancy in schools, clinics and communities.
- The use of contraceptives and safe sex education to avoid unplanned pregnancies.
- The training of service providers on how to counsel people with alcohol problems and diagnosis and management of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
- The training and support of mothers and caregivers in the management of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
- Skills training and empowerment programmes for people with the condition.
Finding solutions to the problem
The Conversation suggests in the short-term:
- The government can expand and link the clauses relating to foetal alcohol spectrum disorder that already exist in current policy documents.
- Streamline existing services.
- Systematically evaluate current efforts to address the condition to identify the gaps in services and interventions.
In the long-term, South Africa needs to develop a separate policy for foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Such policy would facilitate multi-sectoral collaborative work to resolve the problem. It would go beyond addressing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and help in responding to other societal problems such as mental health problems, crime, intellectual disability and low levels of academic achievement.
Further the researchers suggest the South African government should replicate the success recorded in managing HIV and Aids, and learn from approaches adopted by other countries like Australia and Canada, which developed action plans that led to an increase in government funding.