Of all children assessed for disability in the Erongo region, 25% were found with disabilities more likely related to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a medical expert has said.
“The problem exist, as we all know alcohol is still a major issue in our community. However, the magnitude of the problem is not well known as this is something that is not routinely being measured,” said chief medical officer for the Erongo region, Dr Leonard Kabongo.
He added that although the health ministry has not done a thorough study on the issue, the authorities have an idea of how many children are declared disabled on account of brain damage.
“Among all the children assessed for disability in Erongo during 2020/2021, close to 25% were found with disabilities more likely related to FAS,” he said.
FAS is known to cause deformities of joints, limbs and fingers as well as slow physical growth before and after birth.
It can also be the cause of intellectual disability, poor memory, poor coordination, delayed development, difficulty with reasoning and problem solving, Kabongo added.
All these defects cannot be reversed and is a condition that results from alcohol consumption or exposure during pregnancy.
FAS diagnosis is purely clinical and based on the history of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, however, when it is late and the history of alcohol consumption cannot be established, just clinical and behavioural symptoms will guide the clinician.
Kabongo also made it clear that there is no amount of alcohol that is known to be safe to consume during pregnancy and that a pregnant woman who continues to consume alcohol must be aware of the risks.
The ministry also said that more awareness should be made through community initiatives and stakeholder engagements on the issue of excessive alcohol consumption.
“Babies’ organs and systems are immature and are still in a growing and adaptation state. Alcohol consumed during pregnancy crosses the placenta to the foetus and cannot be metabolised, hence the increased concentration of alcohol in the developing baby,” Kabongo added.
It is reported that children with challenges related to FAS are also more likely to develop attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, aggression, inappropriate social conduct as well as problems with independent living in their adulthood.
People with FAS are also likely to have inappropriate sexual behaviour as well as abuse alcohol and drugs.
Despite the challenge, the health ministry is making efforts to address the issue through health education in the community on different platforms, including the media.