Cape Town – Reports that women in the Eastern Cape were deliberately binge drinking to harm their unborn babies to get more welfare money has made international headlines.
But an expert in the field of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), is concerned that the information might have been taken out of context, is causing a lot of bad publicity and has little scientific ground to it.
British television network Sky News reported on FASD in the Eastern Cape, a story which was initially published by John Harvey in the Weekend Post newspaper in September.
The documentary, the work of freelance European producer Claude Colart, aired on the international network over the weekend. It said pregnant women in the Eastern Cape were deliberately binge drinking – and then using their disabled children to get an income.
It claims that some women were bingeing on a cocktail of yeast, water and battery acid – increasing the risk of birth to children with FASD.
Video footage showed a heavily pregnant woman drinking a homemade brew called “kah-kah” which was sold in shebeens. Sky News reported that families would receive R250 a child per month, but a disabled child brought in R1200 a month.
This week the Herald reported that Sky News crews visited the northern areas interviewing community members. A local expert, however, has raised concerns.
Leana Olivier, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (Farr), said that while she is not saying that it was not happening, more scientific research was needed to back up the claims.
No FASD research had been conducted in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality or in the Eastern Cape to date, yet a FASD rate of 14percent for this area has been quoted from the Medical Research Council, she said.
“Given the fact that Farr has done all the published FASD prevalence studies to date in South Africa (four in Western Cape, two in Northern Cape and one in Gauteng) we know that the highest reported prevalence in the world is in De Aar (122 in 1000 or 12 percent), so the rate of 14 percent is pure thumb-suck for South Africa,” she said.
Olivier pointed out that FASD could not be diagnosed at birth.
Farr is the only institution in the country that diagnoses infants as early as nine months with FAS, not FASD, and repeat the examination when they are three years old to confirm the diagnoses. – Cape Argus