Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: ‘Drinking helped me forget my painful life’

Despite the awareness about the danger of consuming alcohol during pregnancy, some women turn a blind eye and as a result, give birth to children with FASD.

South Africa is estimated to have the highest prevalence of FASD reported in the world, more than 14 times the global average. South Africa has an incidence of 111.1 per 1 000 population while the global average is 7.7 per 1 000 population.

From the mothers

Muntuza Masinga, from Msogwaba, says she started drinking when she was nine years old because she grew up in a “disadvantaged” home, with an alcoholic mother. When she was 12, she fell pregnant with her daughter, but she continued to drinking so I gave birth to a premature baby with FASD. “I still remember being told by the nurses at Msogwaba Clinic about what could happen when I drank too much alcohol, but I didn’t listen because drinking helped me forget my painful life,” she says. 

Today, Masinga celebrates the life of my 15-year-old daughter whom many told me will never survive because she was born with FASD. 

“On the day I gave birth at Rob Ferreira Hospital, the midwives looked at me and said I mustn’t be scared because baby girl is different from others and chances of survival were slim. However, looking back now, I’m grateful that my baby is alive but I wish I had done things differently. We’re both HIV positive and she’s constantly experiencing discrimination because of her appearance.”

The severity of FASD varies from child to child with the most severe form being Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The signs and symptoms of FAS may include any mix of physical, intellectual or cognitive disabilities such as deformities in joints and limbs, small head and brain size and poor memory, balance and coordination, according to the US-based research organisation Mayo Clinic

“The brain and nerve abnormalities found in children with FASD often manifest as hyperactivity, irritability, attention deficit disorder, distractibility and taking longer than normal to complete tasks but FASD can be prevented,” says Zanele Sibiya, a nurse at Rob Ferreira Hospital. 

In order for any pregnant women to prevent their unborn baby from getting FASD after finding out that they are pregnant, they should immediately stop drinking alcohol because it’s dangerous to the foetus, she further explains. 

“Some babies are already born showing that they got FASD but some could develop it growing up. Those born showing the disorder usually receive counselling.”

More awareness needed

Pregnant women are often aware that drinking is not good for their unborn babies but they find it hard to stop drinking. Emmerencia Lubisi, who lives in Daantjie in Mpumalanga, thought she would be an exception. 

“It’s not as if our local health facilities are failing to give us the right information during pregnancies but because we don’t think it could never happen to us, we usually do the opposite of what’s right. As a parent with a child affected with FASD, I plead with Department of Health to [create more] awareness in rural communities and townships regarding FASD because our kids are experiencing stigma and discrimination due to the lack information people have about the disorder,” she says. 

Local shebeen owner Annah Mazibuko says she didn’t have enough information about FASD because there isn’t much awareness. 

“Some of us believe this type of sickness or disorders only affect white people, which is not true. As one of those shebeen owners who lacks information about health issues, I plead with the Department of Health to include shebeen owners when they are doing their health awareness campaigns because we’re usually left behind.”

Mazibuko says currently she won’t refuse to sell alcohol to a pregnant woman because she wouldn’t be able to explain why she refuses to sell to them.

Mpumalanga department of health media liaison officer, Christopher Nobela, says the department conducts daily health talks in the health facilities and run support groups specifically for pregnant women who are struggling with alcohol and other substance abuse.

“In these groups, the women are encouraged by health promoters and health care workers to stop taking alcohol during their pregnancies and other things that might be harmful to their unborn babies. However, the wonderful news is that FASD is 100% preventable, the bad news is that it’s 100% irreversible.” – Health-e News 

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.


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