Donation keeps critical De Aar’s Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention Project going
A donation of R1 million by The South African Breweries (SAB) to the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) has saved one of the Foundation’s most significant projects in De Aar from closure.
FARR was established as a section 21 non-governmental, not for profit organisation in 1997 with a focus on – amongst other things – preventing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) through the provision of awareness and prevention programmes, diagnostic services, research, education, training and surveillance.
Since then, FARR’s efforts to reduce the incidence of FAS have been globally lauded, They resulted in a 30% drop in FAS community prevalence rate in De Aar, which had the highest incidence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in the world. This year alone, FAS chairperson, Prof Denis Viljoen, received the prestigious Henry Rosett Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Field. It was the first time that the award was bestowed on a person outside of North America. Prof Viljoen, along with FARR’s CEO, Leana Olivier, also opened a FASD Centre in San Diego which is modelled on FARR’s own centre in De Aar.
One of FARR’s many success stories is a 28-year-old De Aar mother who, after four miscarriages because of alcohol abuse, gave birth to a healthy baby three months ago after completing the Healthy Mother Healthy Baby programme, supported by FARR counsellors.
“SAB has provided financial backing to FARR on a number of occasions in the past, having been also involved in its founding which was supported by the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) ,” says Dr Vincent Maphai, SAB Executive Director of Corporate Affairs and Transformation.
“When we heard that their project in De Aar, which is undoubtedly one of the most successful examples of FAS prevention in the world, was threatened with closure earlier this year, we immediately decided to donate the necessary funds to keep its doors open,” says Dr Maphai.
“When we announced that we were being forced to close our doors, we were faced with a huge media and community outcry,” explains Olivier. “Thankfully SAB’s donation has changed all that, and we are hugely grateful to them for keeping our most successful project to date going. This funding will enable our centre in De Aar to remain open for another year, which will hopefully save many more children from being born with FAS in this community. It will also enable us to continue to develop and refine our evidence based programmes for implementation elsewhere in South Africa,” concluded Olivier.
Healthy Mother Healthy Baby Programme:
The “Healthy Mother Healthy Baby” programme focuses on the prevention of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders and community empowerment programme in De Aar and the surrounding towns of the Pixley ka Seme district in the Northern Cape Province.
All the pregnant women, attending public health services, are invited to sign up for the programme. During the programme women receive information and support to enable them to have a safe and healthy pregnancy with a focus on nutrition, exercise, abstinence from harmful substances such as smoking, alcohol and other drugs, bonding and early childhood development and stimulation. Each woman’s risk profile for substance abuse assessed and she gets allocated to one of the four support groups (low, medium, high, harmful risks groups).
Throughout the programme there is a strong focus on the development of the self-esteem of the woman and the importance of bonding (80% of the pregnancies are unplanned) as these are key factors in the care of the baby after birth with severe implications on issues like basic child care, nutrition, child abuse and neglect and ultimately scholastic performance, juvenile crime, etc.
Babies born to these mothers are assessed at 9 months of age to determine if they have FASD (internal monitoring and evaluation mechanism), but also to assess their general health status and to ensure that they do not have any other problems or disabilities. Infants with any medical or social problems are referred accordingly. Infants (with or without FASD) with developmental delays or challenges are referred to the on-site FARR occupational therapist who allocates the mothers and babies to stimulation groups where they receive individual and group therapy for as long as they need it.
Preliminary information from the HMHB Programme indicates that there might be a further reduction in the FASD rate (even more than the current 30%). This data will unfortunately only be ready for analysis once we have assessed the last babies born
De Aar: Project History
FARR established a FASD community centre, the FARR/Joan Wertheim Centre in the community donated by a local philanthropist. The said house is used as a centre for various health and social issues, including FASD. Using the centre as the base, FARR employed 8 community members and trained them as community, field and research assistants.
With these workers FARR conducted community based innovative FASD with the Healthy Mother Healthy Baby Project being one such project. This project in conjunction with all of the other projects has resulted in a 30% decrease in the FASD prevalence rate in De Aar.
Project status at present
- Since 2006, FARR has received funding from the FirstRand and WesBank Foundations (Tshukulu Trust) to develop, pilot and implement the Healthy Mother Healthy BabyC Programme (HMHB). The funding from the foundations has come to an end, as per the initial agreement.
- The abovementioned HMHBC Programme is receiving wide interest from both the Northern and Western Cape Departments of Health resulting in the following invitations:
- The Department of Social Development, Northern Cape Province, awarded FARR with two awards during 2010: District winner of the Community Builder of the Year and Silver (runner-up) Award for the Provincial Community Builder of the Year. FARR has been invited to participate in the 2012 competition.
- The same department invited FARR to conduct a ‘De Aar like project’ in Galeshewe and Roodepan, the 2 biggest residential areas in Kimberley as from January 2012. FARR will start off with a FASD Prevalence Study, funded by the Department of Social Development.
- The Department of Health, Western Cape Province, has invited FARR to partner with the department, UCT and ATTIC to develop an ‘Assisted Peer Support Programme’ for antenatal (pre-birth) mothers, using the HMHBC model.
Future of the project
FARR is busy with a project to develop capacity to ensure a sustainable intervention pertaining to the prevention of FASD. A number of governmental service providers have been trained over the past few years and ensured that its evidence based models mirrored or complimented the governmental programmes as closely as possible.
To ensure the sustainability of the HMHBC intervention in De Aar, FARR needs to do the following:
Train the key role players in the Departments of Health, Social Development and Education in Substance Abuse (alcohol, tobacco and other drugs) and FASD prevention using the relevant training programmes developed for health professionals, social workers and educators in our HWSeta accredited Training Academy.
Refine the HMHBC Programme to ensure that it can be included in the Department of Health’s BANC (Basic Antenatal Care) Programme
Formally hand over the De Aar FASD Prevention Programme to the Departments of Health, Social Development and Education for continued intervention in De Aar after the departure of FARR. Assist these departments with the integration into their programmes. The R1m funding from SAB will ensure that this is achieved.