National Pregnancy Education Week, running from 16 to 28 February, provides The Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA), Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) and FirstRand Bank with a platform to create awareness on the positive effects that a healthy pregnant mother will have on her unborn child by abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy.
"During the week, our programme, Healthy Mother, Healthy Baby, will also be launched in De Aar in the Northern Cape, the town which currently has the highest reported rate of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the world at 12%, followed closely by Upington at 8.8%," says Leana Olivier, CEO of FARR It is an unfortunate reality that communities with a lower social-economic status tend to have the highest rates of FAS.
"The Healthy Mother, Healthy Baby programme is to guide pregnant women through the process by encouraging attendance at local antenatal clinics, provide education on pregnancy, prepare them for motherhood and educating them on how their behaviour affects their baby. One of the core elements in our programme is to address the importance of a pregnant woman abstaining from alcohol. It is our intention to provide pregnant women with information for them to understand the long-term effects of their behaviour on the health of their children," adds Olivier.
"When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so too does the baby. As a result, the child may be born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) that manifests themselves in various ways such as growth retardation, distinctive facial features or central nervous system deficiencies. The severity of this disorder will depend on a number of factors such as the quantity of alcohol, the timing and the nutritional status of the mother," added Olivier.
It has been scientifically proven that the effects of alcohol can damage the fetus throughout pregnancy and is not isolated to a particular trimester, particularly where there is regular intake or binge drinking. Essentially, alcohol consumed by a pregnant woman, moves into her blood stream and is carried to all her organs and tissues passing freely through the placental membrane that separates the maternal and fetal blood systems, delivering the alcohol directly to the developing tissues of the fetus. This alcohol is harmful to the baby and can have a detrimental effect on its development and growth.
It is for this very reason that ARA and FARR strongly recommend that pregnant women abstain from drinking any alcoholic beverages during pregnancy.
"We firmly believe there is still plenty of research that needs to be done to determine the myriad of health issues related to drinking during pregnancy, as well as what other factors can exacerbate the chances and severity of FASD. The ARA partnership with FARR shows its continued commitment to educating pregnant women on the importance of abstaining from alcohol consumption," says Adrian Botha, spokesperson for the ARA.
"ARA's contribution to FARR assists in the general funding of the organisation's administration and also provides funding for the FARR Training Academy, which will capacitate caregivers and professionals to recognise and understand the problem of FASD and to implement initiatives that will encourage awareness creation and prevention of FAS”, added Botha.
The ARA is an association comprising members that include the major manufacturers of alcohol beverages in South Africa, such as SAB Ltd, members of the SA Liquor Brandowners Association (which include Distell, Brandhouse, KWV, Douglas Green Bellingham, & Co, Pernod-Ricard and The Really Great Brand Company amongst others), E Snell & Co Ltd, members of VinPro and members of Wine Cellars SA. A number of distributors and some retail chains such as Tops and Diamond Liquors have been welcomed as associate members.
The ARA is registered as a non-profit organization (NPO) with the Department of Social Development and is focused on the prevention of the negative consequences of alcohol abuse. The association's mission is to reduce alcohol-related harm through combating the misuse and abuse of alcohol beverages and promoting only their responsible use.
FARR was established as a non-profit organisation (NPO) in 1997. It is a very small organisation with approximately 15 staff members. FARR has 3 focus areas;
FARR is at present the only organisation of its kind in South Africa with the ability to offer the above-mentioned package, which includes the ability to diagnose FASD. Since its establishment, over 150 scientific papers have been published in various medical journals. The organisation works closely with various Universities across the world and regularly partner with scientists in a wide range of fields such as engineering, bio-engineering, etc. to develop innovative initiatives and tools to combat FASD in South Africa.
- Awareness and prevention
- Research, diagnosis and management of FASD
- Training (which will now be strengthened with the establishment of the Training Academy in 2008)
FARR has awareness, prevention, research and management projects in the Witzenberg area (Ceres), De Aar and Upington, Ashton and with its head office in Rondebosch, Cape Town. The organisation works closely with the Departments of Health, Social Development, Education, Agriculture and others in the development of appropriate mechanisms to strengthen and support Government efforts in addressing the problem of substance abuse, including alcohol, and the high prevalence of FASD in South Africa. FARR has a very supportive Board of Directors, consisting of experts in the field of substance abuse and FASD.