Editorial: Civil society needs to tackle problem

IT IS nothing short of tragic that we report today the horrifying statistic that 13% of Grade 1 pupils in 11 wards around Port Elizabeth’s northern areas – specifically Bethelsdorp and Helenvale – suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

FASD is the most severe form of what is commonly known as foetal alcohol syndrome – in short, it means that 130 out of every 1 000 pupils have irreversible, serious brain damage caused by nothing else than that their mothers did not stop drinking when they were pregnant. It is a 100% preventable but also a 100% untreatable condition.

The consequences for society are dire. Those suffering from this devastating condition are often exploited by gangs, and get addicted to drugs and alcohol themselves.

The one encouraging aspect of this research is the involvement of the Eastern Cape Liquor Board. After hearing reports from the northern areas communities about maternal drinking, instead of ignoring the disempowered and the impoverished, it made a plan.

The board found the money to do research and when the facts unfolded, it made sure a prevention plan was put in place to address this blight.

The research would have had little but shock value if there was no resolve to try to do something about it.

It presents an almost insurmountable difficulty – mostly because it relies on women taking control of both their own and their unborn babies’ health, and generating a concerted effort to change the “drinking culture” that is, sadly, so deeply entrenched in our communities.

This prevention programme should become a campaign for civil society and business in Nelson Mandela Bay. Almost all the children with FASD and their mothers were also severely malnourished.

Surely we can take hands to change that. The liquor board has given us all the knowledge – it is up to all of us now to translate that into community power.

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