The Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (SA) inc.

2nd World FASD Conference - 21 May 2007

2nd World FASD Conference
From Wednesday 7th of March 2007 till late Saturday on the 10th over 1,200 delegates from countries such Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Finland, Nigeria, El Salvador, Canada, Holland, Germany, South Africa and the United States gathered at the 2nd International Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Victoria, British Columbia to hear about Research, Policy and Practice from around the World.

It had been nearly 20 years after the 1st International conference on FAS to hear and see what changes had occurred. But the title of a paper presented by Vikki Russell from Tasmania “The Emu has its Head in the Sand” FASD in Australia really summed up the situation in regards to the Australian Governments or community doing anything about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD.

It is simply amazing that research ahs been going across the world looking at alcohol and the impacts on the unborn fetus but in Australia you wouldnt know it. Doctors and advisory groups are still advising women that it is ok to drink in moderation (sic) even though world evidence is overwhelming in its advice that there is no safe amount of alcohol consumed while pregnant.

In countries such as some of those listed all alcoholic beverages have to have warning messages displayed and the upsetting part is that this includes alcohol products from Australia. Why in 2007 is it ok for citizens consuming Australian wine and beers in other countries have by law a health warning message about consuming alcohol whilst pregnant but the same wine or beers produced for the Australian market dont have the same health message.

It wasnt all that long that Tobacco companies were also saying there products were safe do we have to wait another 20 years before the Australian government acts and forces the alcohol industry to have the same messages. At a recent Thinking Drinking Conference in Melbourne the Assistant Health minister for New Zealand stated that his country will be applying Health messages and asking Australia to also follow suit.

About 18 Australians attended the conference and included FASD advocates such as Lorian Hayes and Janet Hammill, Sue Miers, Collen OLeary and Carol bowers from WA and a range of other researchers.

It has been estimated that the cost to the community for a person with FASD is about $1.5 mil per person with FASD (A Framework for Action, Public Health Agency of Canada p8) and that FASD affects approximately 1% of the Canadian population or about 300,000 people living with FASD today. (FASD Public Health Agency of Canada 2007). This represent a cost of almost $500 million and when you consider population size between Canada and Australia is about the same and drinking patterns are similar it indicates to me indicates Australia would have similar levels albeit hidden and unrecognised

Sessions that I attended included a number on Juvenile Justice and detention. Were in places like Manitoba there is a court mandated FASD program. When you consider the incarceration rates and the symptoms associated with FASD I believe that a number of people sent to either juvenile or adult correctional facilities have FASD and should be properly assessed before any sentence is imposed.

I could go on and on about the issue as I found this conference the most disturbing I have attended in that evidence of harms associated with alcohol consumption have been known for a long time but successive governments have allowed the alcohol industry to keep Australians in the dark. In North America there are over 17 Diagnostic clinics that can diagnose people with FASD, which allows people to understand what is happening, and hopefully get the appropriate help. In Australia there are none why is this?

So what is FASD?
Alcohol affects each pregnant women and fetus differently. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the term used to describe the range of disabilities caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Characteristics of individuals with FASD may and can include, Learning and memory difficulties
Language processing difficulties
Speech and language deficits
Behavioural problems
Poor comprehension of social rules and expectations
Sensory and hearing, and vision deficits
Short attention span
Impulsive behaviours
Coordination and motor skill deficits
Easily overwhelmed and over stimulated
Facial abnormalities
Growth deficiency

How much alcohol is risky?
It is safest not to drink at all when you are pregnant; this is because it is not known how much alcohol it takes to cause the harm. As the babies brain and central nervous system develops throughout pregnancy.

What if I drank alcohol before I was pregnant?
It is not uncommon that women drink alcohol before knowing they are pregnant but even if you did drink it is important to know it is never too late to stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

What needs to be done?
TALK about substance use with all women and link women to information and support.

IDENTIFY those who need help with reducing drinking and other substance use using non-judgmental emphatic solutions

DISCUSS the level and type of change women are ready to make in their drinking and towards improved health in many other ways known to reduce risk.

SUPPORT women by keeping the discussion open and by providing /assisting with connection to needed services. For pregnant women stress the benefits of reduced drinking and improved health at any point possible in pregnancy

In finishing I would like to thank the Alcohol Education Rehabilitation Foundation (FASD) for providing financial support for me to attend and I look forward to groups such as the AERF taking up the challenge of FASD in the near future.

Scott Wilson
Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (SA) Inc

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