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More black moms-to-be boozing

ECONOMICALLY marginalised black women have been identified as a new risk group for drinking during pregnancy.

This is according to a research study done in Kimberley, Northern Cape, by the Foundation for Alcohol-Related Research (FARR).

Leana Olivier, CEO of FARR, said the research was done in Galeshewe and Roodepan, which are areas predominantly populated by black people.

"What is particularly disturbing is that for the first time we are encountering new patterns of alcohol abuse among young black women, a group that has never been at risk until now," she said.

She attributed this change to a migration towards cities, a weakening of social support structures as well as changes in social mores.

The study showed that in the two residential areas, which accounted for about 80% of Kimberley's population, 6% of the children tested had foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), the worst form of foetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD).

The most severe manifestation of FASD is FAS, which results in permanent damage to the central nervous system.

Children with FAS have lifelong learning and behavioural conditions.

Galeshewe and Roodepan showed an incident rate of 6%, which means that of the 1000 children who were tested, 60 tested positive for FAS.

"Obviously, this is tragically and unacceptably high, for without prenatal exposure to alcohol, there would be no FAS or FASD," Olivier said.

She said in some parts of Galeshewe, the FAS prevalence was as high as 11%.

According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa, and particularly Western Cape, has the highest rates of FASD in the world.

"Yes, Western Cape is the highest in the world, followed by Northern Cape. It used to be the other way around. The next highest prevalence rate in the world is in the US, with between one and three percent," Olivier said.

According to the Western Cape government website, the high number of FAS reported cases was "believed to be as a result of the dop system - a criterion by which wine manufacturers pay workers with alcohol".

Olivier said a large number of the women in the study exhibited very low self-esteem.

"Part of our awareness training and encouraging women to assume greater responsibility for their lives is to get them to see value in themselves," Olivier said.

National health department spokesman Joe Maila said the department tried through various awareness programmes to promote healthy pregnancies.

"One of these innovations is [phone technology] MomConnect, which the department launched last year, which offers support to pregnant mothers," Maila said.

"We work closely with the department of social development when we spot signs of foetal alcohol syndrome."



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