According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that at least one million people in South Africa have Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and approximately five million have partial FAS and other FAS disorders.
This was the topic of the day, on Wednesday September 7, at the Dulcie September civic centre in Athlone.
Mayco member for social development and early childhood development, Suzette Little, who was the previous Ward 49 councillor, spoke to about 200 women from Athlone, Hanover Park, Manenberg, Lavender Hill, Lotus River, Macassar, Ocean View, Ravensmead and Uitsig about the syndrome.
She was speaking on FAS Awareness Day on Friday September 9.
At the event, four dolls were passed around to the women – one representing a crying baby, a healthy baby, ahead of a baby with a transparent plastic head revealing “brain damage”.
FAS is a birth defect that results from a woman’s use of alcohol during her pregnancy.
Children with FAS may grow slower than other children, have facial abnormalities and problems with their central nervous systems, including mental retardation.
The symptoms of FAS also include characteristic facial features such as small eyes with drooping upper lids; short; upturned nose; flattened cheeks; small jaw, thin upper lip; flattened philtrum (the groove in the middle of the upper lip) and central nervous system problems including mental retardation; hyperactivity; delayed development of gross motor skills such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking, as well as the delayed development of fine motor skills such as grasping objects with the thumb and index finger, and transferring objects from one hand to the other. The symptoms also include impaired language development, memory problems, poor judgement, distractibility, impulsiveness, problems with learning, and seizures.
Children with FAS may also suffer from decreased birth weight, small skulls, and hearing disorders.
At the event, Ms Little said the challenges the community faced were the consequences of mothers who drank during pregnancy.
She also said that while women were aware they should not drink during their pregnancy, men did not know that they also needed to abstain from alcohol because their sperm carried it.
She told mothers that while breast feeding, the alcohol came through their breast milk.
She explained to the women that FAS was a huge contributor to gangsterism because children who suffered from it could not concentrate in class and eventually dropped out of school. When you start drinking and how much you drink will affect that particular development of the child at that point,” Ms Little said.
“When the baby cries we shake the baby to keep quiet, but what we don’t realise is that we are shaking the child’s brain. So when the baby keeps quiet we think it’s okay but what you don’t realise is that you have shaken the child unconscious because you have damaged the child’s brain – shaking causes swelling on the brain,” she said.
She added that when the child drops out of school parents blame the teachers but forget they consumed alcohol while they were pregnant. “There are consequences for the child, not their parents.
“We often blame the City for not taking care of the children, but the City can’t stop you from drinking while you are pregnant, they can say don’t do it, but they can’t tell you to stop,” she said.
“Alcohol is like a drug and can be found in the man’s sperm. It is legal but it makes you high and when you are high you want to have sex,” she added.
Ms Little’s advised parents who notice any of the symptoms in their children to contact district officer as soon as possible.
She said while it will not solve the problem there are ways of making it easier.
Anyone who needs information about FAS can contact Ms Little on 021 400 1218 or 073 321 5036