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Maternal alcohol consumption: Prevalence and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in South Africa

Date Released: Thu, 20 April 2017 15:59 +0200

Globally, alcohol is been identified as a risk factor contributing to ill-health, premature deaths amongst individuals aged between 25-59 years, which is the core of the working age population (European Alcohol and Health Forum, 2011). In Africa, South Africa is labelled as a hard drinking country. It has been reckoned that individuals in South Africa consume about 5 billion litres of alcohol annually (Seggie, 2012). Amongst those who do drink, Health Survey indicate that 18% of women above the age of 15 in the province have ever drunk alcohol and that 10% currently drink (Department of Health, 2007). Rates of foetal alcohol syndrome have been shown to be high in the Northern Cape and Western Cape:  67.2 per 1000 children in two towns in the Northern Cape (Urban et al., 2008); and 68.0–89.2 per 1000  children in the first grade population of a mostly ‘Coloured’ community in the Western Cape (May et al., 2007). Patterns of drinking indicate that Eastern Cape women who drink alcohol tend to drink at harmful or hazardous levels mostly over the weekends (Department of Health, 2007).

Cismaru, M., et al. (2010) indicated that approximately 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, therefore it’s likely that women will binge-drink during those times. Therefore, many women underestimate the possible harms of alcohol consumption, and the invisible effects that can only be apparent in future, such as the extent to which alcohol can damage the foetus. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is being found to be the common result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. FASD is an umbrella term of all the conditions that can occur to a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These conditions are:

  • Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), is known to be the most leading one, in which the children display facial anomalies, growth retardation and developmental abnormalities of the central nervous system. In Northern Cape, FAS has shown to be high with 67.2 per 1000 children in two towns (Urban et al., 2008); and in Western Cape FAS has been shown to be 68.0–89.2 per 1000  children in the first grade population of a mostly ‘Coloured’ community in the Western Cape (May et al., 2007)
  • In Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (PFAS), children display the typical facial features as well as abnormalities in one of the other areas (growth, central nervous system structure or function)
  • Other teratogenic effects of alcohol include Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD) and Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) (Manning & Eugene Hoyme, 2007).

Other effects would be diminished intellectuality, difficulties with learning & memory, and poor judgment. Furthermore, persons with these conditions are likely to drop out from school, and are susceptible to alcohol and drug abuse in years later (Organisation of Teratology Information Specialists, 2014). Although, the safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy is unknown, drinking any time during pregnancy increases the risks of damaging the unborn child. Therefore, it is recommend that the best thing the mother can do for her unborn child is to further avoid using alcohol while pregnant.


Written by Katlego Molokoe

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Source:Katlego Molokoe