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Speech Delivered by the Deputy Minister of Trade And Industry, Ms Nomalungelo Gina at the International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Commemoration in Potchefstroom, North West on 9 September 2019
MEC for DEDECT, Miss Kenetswe Masenogi.
The Mayor of Potchefstroom, His Worship...
DDG Dr Evelyn Masotja.
The Senior Management from Liquor Authority
The North West Liquor Board
The women present today and Community at large.
Let me thank the National Liquor Authority for taking this important initiative as they did last year, in Northern Cape, to commemorate this important international day of observation to us as women. The 9th of September is an international day for awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The first commemoration of this day was in September 1999; and so this year marks the 20th anniversary since the beginning of the observation of this day, internationally at 09h00, whereby a prevention message is always shared.
There is no doubt that the awareness around fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in South Africa is still very low. We, who are a bit educated and exposed to information can take it for granted that every women in her productive stage in South Africa knows about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. However, evidence points to the contrary. Many babies in this period are born with disorders that could have been preventable if it was not for their mothers imbibing alcohol during their pregnancy phase.
What is the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)?
These disorders are a group of conditions that occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. This disorders may include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, poor coordination, low intelligence, behavioral problems, and problems with hearing and sight. Due to parental recklessness by taking alcohol during the pregnancy a baby that grows to become a citizen of this country is already incapacitated to his or her full potential to become a normal person because alcohol. Alcohol can never be advisable to any pregnant women. To the extent that the development of a baby from foetus, embryo to a fully developed baby before delivery lies heavily on women womb and nutrition, it stands to reason therefore that anything that a mother takes feeds directly to the foetus, to the embryo as the baby develops. And so, in doing this, we compromises our babies before they are even born.
The consumption of alcohol by a pregnant woman at any stage of pregnancy affects foetus and causes permanent impairments of growth and brain development. The high concentration of alcohol causes permanent multi-system damage as alcohol easily crosses the placenta into the blood and tissues of the developing foetus or embryo.
When these affected children have grown they tend to face the following challenges in their lives:
They have trouble in coping at school. They tend to have a negative schooling experience. They are easily distractible and with short memory underpinned by low IQ level.
They lack motor coordination which informed attention deficit.
3. They are uncooperative to teachers, disruptive and generally difficult to manage.
They tend to have a penchant for high-risk behaviours and themselves become prone to alcohol abuse.
Many studies have been done in this country and indeed have shown that we are not immune from this prevalence of FASD; and in fact, we are ranking the top of the global packaging order. Northern Cape remains the leading province in terms of numbers, followed by the Western Cape. This province of north West is also bedeviled by this driving of pregnant women, hence our choice of bringing this awareness day to this province. In comparison to USA, which is sitting at 3% (30/1000), SA is sitting at between 2, 7%-28% (27-280/1000).
One of the real problems in SA is the phenomenon of binge drinking. People, especially young people, who abuse alcohol way above acceptable consumption level per day in terms of international standards. South Africans ranks within the top three countries in the world in terms of consumption levels of alcohol. The biggest number of these are young people who spend a lot of time in clubs, pubs and shebeens. Whilst there is a direct relationship between the growth of the black middle class having a disposable income to spend on entertainment, and the rising levels of binge drinking but statistics tells us that even the poorest relying on social grants, abuses alcohol too. In this regard, alcohol in South African has turned into a lifestyle to many of South Africans. R16 out of R100 earned in SA, is on average spent on alcohol.
In general, terms, alcohol is a causal effect of many social problems in this country. Every festive season, despite the Department of Transport consistent campaign on arrive alive, many car accidents and the loss of lives is mainly caused by drunk and driving. Even pedestrians fatalities are, in the main, a consequence of drunken pedestrians. About R37.9 billion per annum spent on injuries and hospitalization costs is consequential to alcohol usage.
As Liquor Authority, a Department of Trade and Industry entity has a dual task. One is its mandate of issuing permissions to liquor outlets and regulate the industry whilst it continues to operate and contributes to our economy, but also it has a social justice mandate to educate through awareness and other forms, the consumers of alcohol working in concert with the industry itself, about the dangers of alcohol abuse. This awareness today is but one of these interventions.
I would have loved to see more of the industry itself taking active campaign using their budgets about the dangers of their products to their consumers. Those companies that are doing it are not going far enough. To some of them, they minimally do this compliance issue through their websites and other in cosmetic methods that do not scratch the surface. Of cause the intensity of such an awareness is not good for their bottom lines but at some point we need to morally accept the social ailment that these products does to our society, and therefore agree to forego profit margins for the sake of posterity.
We have resolved that the question of alcohol dangers awareness is what we are going to focus on. I am going to lead a campaign against shebeens operating near our schools whereby learners find escapades to drink and even buy drugs in these spaces in vicinity to schools. If there is a gab in law preventing us from winning this fight, I am prepared to look at addressing those through a legislative process. We need to protect our children from alcohol.
We need to do a lot of awareness in our institutions of higher learning where our children stay in students housing without the guardianship of their parents. Binge drinking begins mainly in University transition. Herein lies unprotected sex and sexually transmitted diseases from this group of youth from 19-24 years of age.
Sobriety weeks are going to be a mainstay of our activities. I urge the North West Liquor board to be active within the province. We must set side budgets for awareness programme. We must go to schools, universities and communities. We must form partnerships with Social Development Department as Economic Development in the province and churches.
The future belongs to our children as future leaders in the economy, government and society. We must begin to protect them right from discovery of one being pregnant. I want to repeat that we are sending a strong message to industry (liquor manufacturers, distributors and retailers) to join us in this consumer education. They can do so either as industry alone or with us as government. The industry cannot afford to tiptoe around this scourge; alcohol is costing this country severely in economic terms, the state budget in running road campaigns, hospital costs of the injured and RAF claims. Let us regard alcohol consumption levels in this country as problematic and as a national problem that requires concomitant interventions.