The community of Bela-Bela, in Limpopo, has signed a pledge to raise awareness about Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and to support pregnant women and girls.
The pledge is part of the 999 Campaign launched by Social Development Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu over the weekend. The campaign aims to create awareness and educate communities about the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, which includes giving birth to a baby with FAS.
Babies with FAS have growth defects and they often suffer from learning and development difficulties.
According to a research published in the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR), South Africa is leading the globe with the highest number of FAS births.
During a community dialogue held in Bela-Bela this week to raise awareness on the dangers of FAS, the Deputy Minister urged all members of the community to work together to prevent more FAS births, by supporting pregnant women and girls from the local community.
“If you start drinking alcohol at the age of eighteen, you need ten years to clean it out of your system. This means that alcohol consumption at a young age has long-term and irreversible effects. A person’s brain stops growing at the age of 25 years,” the Deputy Minister said.
She said that FAS is 100% preventable.
Mushrooming of illegal liquor outlets
The community highlighted a number of social challenges in the area, including the mushrooming of illegal liquor outlets operating near schools and places of worship.
They complained that the local municipality does not effectively enforce municipal bylaws, especially with regards to the issuing of liquor licenses.
The community also raised concerns about the high rate of teenage pregnancy, underage drinking and lack of primary healthcare services, including sexual and reproductive health services for young people.
High prevalence of substance abuse
One of the learners from a local school expressed concerns about the safety of girl learners, due to the high prevalence of substance abuse.
“Drug peddlers are operating near our schools and they sell drugs to male learners during school hours. We have reported this matter to local police but no action has been taken against the perpetrators to date. We don’t feel safe in schools as girls, because anything can happen to us when the other learners are under the influence of drugs,” the learner said.
In response, the Deputy Minister promised to revisit the area in the near future to address specific issues raised by the community during the dialogues.
She said she will also hold a dialogue with the Bela-Bela Taverners’ Forum and conduct awareness sessions on underage drinking, gender-based violence and HIV.
The Deputy Minister further urged the community to partner with government in the fight against alcohol and drug abuse.
The 999 Campaign is expected to be rolled out in all nine provinces during the first nine days of September.
The campaign will be rolled out in the Phuthaditjhaba Multi-Purpose Centre in Free State; Podumong Hall in Taung, North West; Keimoes Town Hall, Northern Cape; Cacadu Tribal Council in Umtata, Eastern Cape and Osizweni Special School in Mpumalanga.
A closing event of the campaign will be held at Birchwood Hotel in Gauteng on 9 September 2018, which is the commemoration of International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day.
International FASD Awareness Day is observed every year on 9 September at 9:09am in recognition of the importance of being alcohol free for the nine months of pregnancy. – SAnews.gov.za