FASD is a preventable lifelong disability and the leading developmental disability in Canada. According to existing data, FASD prevalence in North America is estimated at 4%. However, due to the challenging nature of diagnosing FASD, experts believe the actual prevalence is far higher. FASD occurs as a result of being exposed to alcohol prenatally – while in the mother’s womb.
There are rising concerns among experts that FASD prevalence rates may increase along with COVID-19, in addition to the impact the pandemic has already had on this community.
Challenges faced by the FASD community due to COVID-19
Stories from the community indicate that those with FASD and their caregivers are suffering more in the current pandemic. Caregivers mainly report problems due to,
- lack of support services,
- disruption in daily routine, and
- mental health challenges.
A grave problem is that there has been an exclusion of the FASD community in COVID-19 messaging. Further, support programmes have been cancelled due to the pandemic and the implementation of lockdown and movement restrictions measures.
Daily routines of those with FASD have been disrupted. As people who are affected by this disorder thrive from following a set of routines, disruption has impacted them and their caregivers negatively.
There have been recent reports from parents of children with FASD, alerting authorities that during the pandemic their children’s mental health has deteriorated. There are increasing reports of difficulty concentrating, boredom, irritability, restlessness and nervousness among children with FASD.
Furthermore, caregivers, parents and families caring for someone with FASD have been experiencing increased stress.
Rise in alcohol consumption could increase FASD
A recent study published in August 2020 by the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction revealed that 19% of Canadians aged 12+ (5.7 million people) reported heavy alcohol consumption at least monthly. Another study revealed at least 20% Canadians have increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic.
These findings are cause for concern as it could mean alcohol use during pregnancy. The threat is increased because the alcohol industry has been promoting alcohol use as coping tool with stress, anxiety and pressure of COVID-19; as women often do not know they are pregnant until a few weeks after and over half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Therefore, even unknowingly women could be consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
Experts have recommended going alcohol-free if couples are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or having unprotected sex.
Support from all needed for future
Prevention, care and support services and evidence-based policies are all part of the FASD plan for Canada. Another important aspect is awareness among all Canadians. Increased understanding and awareness about FASD would help those who currently have FASD, their caregivers and prevent FASD in the long-term.
Movendi International recently reported of an FASD awareness initiative by the Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network and the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health to prevent FASD during COVID-19.