South Africa's cape region has the highest recorded levels of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the world
The habit of binge drinking is now ingrained in South African culture at all social levels, researchers say. In the Northern Cape town of De Aar, the rate of FAS babies is 122 per 1,000 live births, according to recent research by the Medical Research Council in Cape Town. By contrast, FAS levels in the US are between 0.1 per 1,000 and 0.67 per 1,000.
"There's a tolerance of drinking in South Africa, not only among the uneducated; it's right through our culture," says Ms. Olivier. Unfortunately, she says, there is little recognition that alcohol can be damaging to a woman's fetus.
"The aim is to change behavior, provide logical information for the mothers. If we can catch them when they become pregnant, at least we can still do something. After they become pregnant, the damage is done."
The solution seems clear-cut: Provide counseling about the dangers of drinking for women of child-bearing age through medical clinics; run public information campaigns on billboards and Television; and put warning labels on bottles of spirits.
But Sandra Marais, a senior researcher for the Medical Research Council, and professor at the University of South Africa in Cape Town, says that South Africa is far behind in recognizing the problem of fetal alcohol syndrome and doing something about it.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome --- South Africa, 2001
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in South Africa
South Africa's Children Are Victims of Nation's Alcoholism Culture