Pregnant and drinking… on purpose
Cape Town - Reports of teenage girls drinking heavily while pregnant so their babies are born with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), so they will qualify for disability grants, has prompted research into this phenomenon.
Leana Olivier, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research, said reports had been received that some young women in the Eastern Cape’s Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality were “drinking heavily so their babies can be born with FAS, enabling them to qualify for a R1 200 disability grant rather than the R280 child grant”.
While such cases have not been reported in the Western Cape - known for its high FAS rate - the foundation has learnt that some pregnant women in the province drink heavily in the hope of aborting unwanted babies.
“There seems to be a developing trend to drink to kill the unborn baby or cause harm to get grants… suggests foetal alcohol syndrome may be much bigger than research has established. In some provinces the problem seems… bigger than HIV/Aids,” Olivier said.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry says SA is among the top 10 countries for alcohol spending, forking out about R10 billion a year.
According to Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Elizabeth Thabethe, while liquor trading contributed a lot in expanding the country’s economy, alcohol use had been blamed on a range of problems, including health, trauma, damage to infrastructure, social impact, and other economic costs.
While many associated FAS with poverty, unemployment and other socio-economic problems, Olivier said anecdotal reports from the private sector suggested that even those in the middle and upper class socio economic groups were affected by FAS.
Olivier blamed this on mixed messages sometimes given by doctors that suggested one glass a day of alcohol, such as wine, was acceptable during pregnancy.
Through interventions such as the Healthy Mother Healthy Baby programme - which encourages women to give up harmful substances during pregnancy - the incidence of FAS in the Northern Cape had dropped by 30 percent.
Adrian Botha, spokesman for the Association for Responsible Alcohol Use, said there was no evidence indicating how much alcohol would cause FAS.
“We believe it is not safe to consume any alcohol during pregnancy,” he said.