Reporter Victoria Laurie of Perth reports that pregnant mothers have eliminated or reduced their intake of alcohol in a life-affirming turnaround in the Kimberley region, which made international headlines with one of the world’s highest rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, in findings published early this year.
Preliminary results of an attitudinal study indicate that the proportion of women who say they drank while pregnant has dropped from 65 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent now, according to Telethon Kids Institute clinical researcher James Fitzpatrick.
“The early data is very positive in terms of FASD prevention,” he said. “This is important knowledge as we know FASD is 100 per cent preventable. We’ve demonstrated that a multi-pronged prevention approach can work.”
Centred on the town of Fitzroy Crossing, the 450-strong Fitzroy Valley population — with 80 births a year — has had a high rate of children born with a serious alcohol-related disability. Researchers in the Liliwan study of FASD incidence in the region diagnosed one in eight children born in 2002-03 with fetal alcohol syndrome; about 55 per cent of mothers admitted to drinking heavily while pregnant. “They were shocking figures, but the positive impact of a community-led FASD prevention strategy in recent years has brought down the levels of drinking in pregnancy,” Dr Fitzpatrick said.
A questionnaire of 200 people in the Fitzroy Valley in August showed 90 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men intended not to drink during their own or a partner’s pregnancy. Another 75 per cent said they would intervene if they saw a pregnant woman drinking, and urge her to abstain.
Dr Fitzpatrick said the turnaround was not entirely surprising to researchers because of an aggressive Aboriginal-led education campaign, spearheaded by Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services and Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre.
He said Fitzroy Crossing’s strict alcohol restrictions, education programs run by midwives and Aboriginal staff and an innovative model of mother-and-child care focused on FASD had raised awareness: “Diagnostic clinics where we show people the impact on children of drinking in pregnancy have been very helpful. I strongly suspect this synergistic approach is the one that made an impact.”
A member of the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs reporting to Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash, Dr Fitzpatrick said he was encouraging the federal government to consider rolling out a scaled-up model across mainstream Australia .
Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.