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Not a drop for baby

On Monday 9 September, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day will be celebrated to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

The day was first celebrated aptly on 9/9/99 (9 September 1999), which represents the nine months the baby is formed in the womb.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a group of birth defects caused when a woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) being the most severe of these disorders. It includes low weight at birth, physical deformities and mental and developmental difficulties. The mental damage caused by FAS is irreversible, yet it is 100% preventable.

FAS is more of a social disorder than a disability, that plagues government with issues ranging from learning disabilities, chronic unemployment, to theft, murder and gangsterism. FAS causes brain damage, which could result in trouble with attention and with processing information. Other issues may include, difficulty with learning, poor social skills and difficulty planning or working towards a goal. Yet society has little compassion for individuals whose damaged brains lead them to a life of crime. The sad reality is that people who suffer from FAS will never be able to live independently as they struggle with day-to-day living.

The Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape has conducted research and found that South Africa has the highest reported occurrence of FAS in the world. In the West Coast, 64 children per 1 000 are affected (6,42%). Research further shows that 9,4%-12,9% (94-129/1 000) of children in Robertson, Montagu, Bonnievale and Ashton areas are suffering from FAS.

People believe that high FAS recordings are mainly the result of the old “dop system”, in which farmers paid their workers in alcohol. Although this form of payment has been outlawed in 1960, some communities still bear the brunt of this payment system.

The department together with the NGO FASFacts educates farming communities about the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Community members and farmworkers are trained as mentors, and are equipped with information about FAS as well as techniques to convey the FAS message in their communities.

The Pebbles Project, which was founded by Sophia Warner, concentrates on the Winelands farming communities of the Western Cape. The Pebbles Project Trust runs a FASD prevention programme, where women who participate sign a Not-A-Drop pledge voluntarily. If they adhere to their pledge they receive a baby box of items they need for their newborn babies. Pebbles has also invented a screening tool to assess young babies’ development and indicate where support is needed, especially for babies with FASD. Warner says: “We have found the Baby Box project to be very successful for the women who have participated, but lack the funding to continue to be able to reach all the pregnant women who need help.”

Every year around the world bells are rung at 09:09 on 9 September to mark the day. The FASD knot is also worn to show support and inform the world about the disorder and as a sign that the person wearing the knot is in support of the FASD prevention message.

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