Pregnant women who drink alcohol damage babies for life

Khanyisile Nkosi

Khanyisile Nkosi

Sipho Zwane, 21, (not his real name) is drawing a picture of himself.

Though he has no beard or hair, he includes them in his drawing. He draws the torso without arms and legs.

Zwane has foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) disorder. He is maturing physically but thinks like a child.

He is among the thousands of people suffering from a neurological disability caused by their mothers' consumption of alcohol while they were pregnant.

Marietjie Grobberlaar, product care manager at FASfacts, a non-government organisation that initiates FAS prevention programmes, says research based on communities in Western Cape, and De Aar and Upington in Northern Cape, demonstrates the enormity of FAS in the country.

"The severity of the potential crisis is best illustrated by results from the De Aar project, where FAS is prevalent in the town in 122 out of 1000 school-going children," she says.

"This is the highest incidence yet reported in one population anywhere in the world."

Grobbelaar says the neurological damage caused by FAS is irreversible.

"Our society has very little compassion for the thousands whose damaged brains lead them to crime, homelessness and addiction," she says.

"We assume they chose to behave as they do. Few people realise that the severely acting-out teen or homeless beggar might behave as they do because of brain damage caused by their mother's drinking during pregnancy."

She says prevention and treatment programmes for alcoholic women could dramatically reduce the effect of FAS.

Grobbelaar says prevention programmes at FASfacts include encouraging young girls and women to abstain from alcohol when planning to conceive.