''Uniting our strengths: finding solutions together'' - International FASD Awareness Day 2023

International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day, is commemorated annually on 9 September.

FASD is caused when a woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy.

Each year, since 1999, on the 9th day of the 9th month at 9 minutes past 9, bells are rung across the world to raise awareness about FASD, and the irreversible damage to unborn children caused by the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

The symbolism of the number 9 is significant, as a woman is ordinarily pregnant for nine months.

Research completed by Foundation of Alcohol Related Research, reveals that South Africa’s prevalence rate is the highest in the world, at 11%, with the Western Cape’s rates as high as 310 out of a thousand live births.

This year's theme is 'Uniting our strengths: finding solutions together'.

The Western Cape's Social Development MEC, Sharna Fernandez urged pregnant women to refrain from drinking alcohol.

‘’Babies with FASD require great love, care, and support, and often parents struggle with the additional responsibilities of caring for a child with FASD.

“There are several FASD children and adults at Sivuyile, the Western Cape Department of Social Development’s residential facility for children and adults with severe and profound, physical, and intellectual disabilities. On my last visit to the facility, I met two young siblings with FASD whose mother dropped them off at the facility when they were babies. She could not take care of them. Their heartbreaking story is one of many in the province, where government must step in where caregivers struggle,” says Fernandez.

The Department has allocated R108.8 million to its Substance Abuse, Prevention, and Rehabilitation Programme.

The programme funds 3 organizations for prevention services with a focus on FASD:

- The Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR). Besides their research-related work in the province, FARR also assists the department with implementing community-based awareness and prevention intervention at local clinics in rural areas.

- Early Years Services, based in Athlone, is contracted to equip Early Childhood Development practitioners with skills to provide appropriate intervention and support when dealing with children affected with FASD and present training in areas across the province.

- FASfacts provide services specifically to pregnant woman to increase awareness of the risks related to using alcohol whilst pregnant. This organization is also subsidized with a social worker position to render therapeutic early intervention services to pregnant females in Worcester and surrounding areas.

Mayoral committee Member for Community Services & Health, Patricia van der Ross, said her portfolio is committed to fight this scourge.

‘'Alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of birth defects and developmental disorders. There is no safe level of drinking while pregnant and we want to remind every woman they can start protecting their babies before they're born.’’

'It is important to be alcohol free during your pregnancy and our health staff are there to help guide and educate women who want to give their babies the best chance starting in the womb. Our strength lies in the knowledge and expertise we share and in so doing, be a part of the solution,’’ added Patricia van der Ross, the City's Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health.

Western Cape’s Health & Wellness MEC, Dr. Nomafrench Mbombo, commemorated the day in Stellenbosch. Mbombo highlighted the importance of the first 1 000 days of a child’s life. Mbombo says raising awareness about FASD, needs a whole of society approach.

‘’Whilst it is permanent, it is preventable. It is not only the responsibility of the expected mother, but the community and father as well. In some of the household, you find the mother and father was drinking, but the father continues to drink whilst the woman is pregnant, which causesd the mother to be left out and starts stealing sips of alcohol as well’’

Speaking on Bush Radio earlier this week, the Project Coordinator for Foundation of Alcohol Related Research, Jaco Louw, gave advice on how to support those affected by FASD

‘’The most important thing is to show a lack of judgement. Acknowledging that is an incredibly vulnerable moment for someone. Like our CEP, Dr. Olivier says, it does not help being mad. No one is going to feel guilty as the mother does. We are going to accept the child as they are, and we are going to look at what we can do to better the child’s wellbeing.’’


Done By: Mitchum George


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