International Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness Day is marked on September 9 around the globe.
The prevention and treatment of substance abuse is a particularly pressing matter for the Western Cape government, with research revealing that one out of 10 children in the worst-affected rural areas of the Western Cape suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and that the syndrome has been confirmed as the primary diagnosis in 10% to 25% of children in the school-going age group.
Western Cape Minister of Health Theuns Botha recently outlined the seriousness of alcohol misuse in the province, as well as the blueprint for its comprehensive strategy. Botha explained that FAS was the effect of a larger societal problem.
“In the Western Cape, we are normally proud to be forerunners, but I am ashamed to say that the province, and more specifically the winelands area, is a forerunner when it comes to the appearance of foetal alcohol syndrome,” he admitted in an address in Worcester.
Botha said that the domino effect of the syndrome on the economy of the region, the province and the country was mind-boggling.
“If 10% to 25% of learners suffer from growth retardation, it means a percentage of our society is unable to develop into effective income earners.”
He said that the women included in the research acknowledged that they were aware that alcohol could detrimentally affect their babies, but they did not care.
“It’s clear that this state of depression is rooted in poverty and extremely difficult living conditions. This is where government’s role comes into play.”
Earlier this year, the provincial cabinet adopted a blueprint for a comprehensive strategy for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.
“We consider the roll-out of this strategy to be so important, it will be driven by the premier because its success relies on close coordination between all provincial departments. Its prioritisation is also due to the strategic importance of addressing drug and alcohol abuse in relation to our overall objectives of increasing job creation and investment in the Western Cape,” said Botha.
He said that as long as drug and alcohol abuse was the order of the day, government would be unable to create employment and investment opportunities that would benefit the residents of the Western Cape.
Botha pointed to a research study conducted by the University of Cape Town that highlights the burden of the disease, showing that alcohol-related road accidents alone cost the Western Cape about R4-billion a year.