South Africa has one of the highest rates of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world. While most people regard this as a problem unique to the Western Cape, new research shows it is a fact of life in Soweto, Lenasia and Westbury as well.
The FAS is not an “all-or-none phenomenon”. There is a spectrum of severity from the full blown syndrome to no defects at all. The higher the amount of alcohol consumed, the greater the degree of malformation. The safe limit for alcohol intake during pregnancy is not known.
While most cases of FAS occur in the Western Cape, Health-e reports that it is increasingly surfacing in the suburbs of Johannesburg as well.
Point in case: Asanda from Gauteng
At 15 years old, Asanda* towers over her Grade 3 classmates, most of whom are about five years younger than the East Rand teen.
Asanda was born with FAS, an irreversible condition that results in growth problems and brain damage, and can also cause heart and kidney defects.
As a result of her FAS, Asanda has learning difficulties that have held her back in school.
She also bears many of the distinctive facial features shared by children with FAS such as wide-set eyes, thin upper lips and flattish faces.
Image: Children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) may have distinct facial features. Credit: National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism