WDHB puts the spotlight on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

29 August 2016

Whanganui residents are being asked to think about the up to 3000 children born in New Zealand each year with life-long disabilities resulting from their mothers’ decision to drink alcohol during pregnancy.
During September, communities worldwide are highlighting International FASD Awareness Month 43 years after researchers identified Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD) for the first time.
Leading the charge for Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) is health promotion officer Chester Penaflor who’s determined to raise awareness about FASD and the fact that alcohol is now recognised as the leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disorders in New Zealand.
To capture people’s attention, Mr Penaflor will provide information in Whanganui Hospital’s Main Entrance this Thursday and Friday (1 & 2 September) so staff and visitors can stop and learn about FASD. Mr Penaflor says it’s not happy reading and nor should it be, when you consider how hard life is for those born with FASD.
“While some people have mental retardation, most have normal intelligence but with impaired learning, memory and growth, and difficulty with impulse control and poor judgment,” Mr Penaflor says. “People with FASD are misunderstood, vulnerable to abuse, at risk of entering the criminal justice system and often without a home and job while struggling with poverty and addiction.
“By raising awareness about what causes FASD and the tragic consequences it can have on people’s lives, we hope to encourage mothers not to drink while pregnant so more babies are healthy with the best chance at reaching their full potential in life.”
Mr Penaflor says to show just how serious people are about trying to prevent FASD at 9.09am on 9 September FASD Awareness Day will be marked with bells ringing in churches, cities and universities worldwide.
“This time and date was chosen to remind everyone of the nine months of pregnancy when the unborn child should be protected from the adverse effects of alcohol exposure,” Mr Penaflor says.
In 2003, a proclamation was signed making September 9 FASD Awareness Day, to bring attention to the new term Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders now used worldwide to help people focus on individuals who do not have the full syndrome but who are nonetheless affected by prenatal alcohol exposure.
“FASD lasts a lifetime, there is no cure and it is 100 percent preventable. Because unborn children have no voice, we must speak on their behalf,” Mr Penaflor says. “The month of September is a great opportunity to appeal to our community and educate our family and friends about the importance of abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy.”

In New Zealand, regular alcohol consumption is contributing to increasing rates of risky alcohol use among women, and particularly young women. In addition to this, risky drinking prior to pregnancy is strongly associated with drinking during pregnancy.  Research shows that one in five (19 percent) of New Zealand women report drinking alcohol at some time in their pregnancy and this rate is higher for younger women (28 percent) aged 15 to 24-years-old.