Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) refer to a group of conditions, characterised by facial deformities, behavioural and learning problems that occur in persons whose parents, especially their mothers, consumed alcohol while pregnant or preparing for pregnancy. Harrowing stories are all too often recounted of babies that are delivered with facial deformities such as cleft palate. While this particular deformity can be and is sometimes surgically corrected, the scars, emotional and physical, still remain, reminders of an imperfection caused by a mother’s, and sometimes father’s ignorance of the consequences of alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy. However, most concerning, perhaps, are the other conditions that befall victims of FASDs; those conditions that are irreparable and confine these innocent ones to lives unliveable; lives marred by crippling behavioural and cognitive disorders.
Every year, a day is set aside to educate people on the dangers of consuming alcohol while pregnant or preparing for it. At the forefront of this drive to educate and save lives is Accra Brewery Limited (ABL), a company sincerely committed to ensuring every experience with alcohol is a positive one. With a passion unbridled, and the ambitious goal of reaching as many women as possible, ABL has rolled up its metaphorical sleeves and gone to work to sensitize women on the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy through its Alcohol and Pregnancy Programme.
Now in its 4th year, the Programme has impacted the lives of over 3000 women and if the overwhelmingly positive feedback is anything to go by, Ghana’s premier Brewery will not be relenting anytime soon till it has succeeded in creating a healthier world.
The Programme forms part of the company’s wider efforts at promoting smart drinking, and partners reproductive health Outpatient Departments (OPDs) in major health facilities across the country, starting with Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, 37 Military Hospital, Adabraka Polyclinic, Police Hospital Kaneshie Polyclinic and Koforidua General hospital. This month, ABL is once again partnering the Public Health Department (Antenatal) of the Police Hospital, Accra to reach the vulnerable.
The initiative has emerged as a pragmatic approach to tackling FASDs head on, while simultaneously vividly illustrating ABL’s commitment to ensuring the welfare, not only of its consumers, but also to Ghanaians in general.
Every year on September 9th, International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day is observed. Proclamations are issued in countries, states, provinces, and towns all around the world.
Bells are rung at 9:09 a.m. in every time zone from New Zealand to Alaska, and people all around the world gather for events to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy, and the plight of individuals and families who struggle with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
The first FASD Day was celebrated on 9/9/1999. This day was chosen so that on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, the world will remember that during the nine months of pregnancy, a woman should abstain from alcohol. This notwithstanding, anytime is a good time to raise awareness about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
There is strong scientific evidence that heavy drinking during pregnancy can permanently damage the cells of the growing foetus and the baby’s nervous system. This possibly leads to the development of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, (FAS) with challenges ranging from learning difficulties and social integration problems to physical birth defects.
When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol is carried through her bloodstream, through the placenta and into the foetus’s blood. This can affect the development of the foetus and cause Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), which refers to a broad range of birth defects including FAS.
FAS is a cluster of genetic and congenital anomalies found in some children born to women who are either dependent on or abuse alcohol. The anomalies include pre and post-natal growth deficiency, distinctive facial features and central nervous system dysfunction. The estimated prevalence of the incidence of FAS ranges from 0.5 to 3 per 1,000 births.
It is important to note, though, that not all women who are alcohol dependent or who abuse alcohol give birth to children with FAS. Other factors such as diet, older age, smoking and illicit drug abuse have been associated with congenital abnormalities.
However as long as there is the slightest chance that drinking during pregnancy can cause FAS, ABL sees the need to make women aware of the danger. Besides, apart from FAS, drinking during pregnancy can cause other foetal conditions such as heart and kidney defects, hearing and sight impairment, and other brain and central nervous system dysfunctions.
Importantly, while ABL is understandably most concerned about ensuring that the alcoholic drinks it sells, chief amongst them being CLUB Beer, are not the cause of complications, or that they negatively impact babies during and after pregnancy, the company is looking much further afield to ensure that no pregnant woman suffers ill consequences from any type or source of alcohol consumption.
Under ABL’s Alcohol and Pregnancy programme, expectant mothers are taken through topics such as the effects of alcohol on the mother and the unborn child as well as its effects on the development of the foetus.
32-year old Lily Danso, a self-employed mother of three and Programme beneficiary, expressed gratitude for the wealth of knowledge she had amassed on alcohol and pregnancy and admonished her colleague women to desist from the habit. “There are a lot of women who are unaware of the effects alcohol consumption can have on the foetus”, Lily said. She further recounted that “on the day of the programme, some women asked if it was ok to drink something before eating while pregnant”. Obviously, this is a wrong notion but “a lot are still unaware that what they ingest can affect the foetus. She encouraged the continuation of the Programme, saying, ‘there are many (women) who are still ignorant and need to be reached”.
Irene Hada, a house wife who attended ante-natal sessions at the Tema General Hospital for her second child, admitted that though she knew alcohol consumption is not advisable for a pregnant woman, she did not realise the enormity of the consequences of such until her participation in the Programme.
She confessed that while pregnant, she was tempted to drink alcohol due to cravings induced by the sale of alcohol where she resided. To resist the temptation, “I would just be inside and lock myself inside”, Irene revealed. She divulged that had it not been for her exposure to the consequences of alcohol consumption during pregnancy as a result of the Programme, ‘I would have taken (alcohol).
Aisha Iddrissu, who had her first child, Imman, at the age of twenty-nine, doesn’t take alcohol for religious reasons. However, seeing a woman who drank heavily give birth to a physically-deformed baby profoundly affected her. She says what bothers her the most is the frequent attribution of such deformities to curses, which diminishes the negligence of the alcoholic mother.
Aisha maintains she would recommend the Programme to other women “because it has helped me. I didn’t know that alcohol consumption while pregnant can lead to deformations in the baby; that their ears can come out like that or their noses and mouths will be unformed”.
Similarly, healthcare personnel are highly appreciative of ABL’s efforts, confirming that the Programme is serving to reduce alcohol dependency and abuse among pregnant women and, most importantly, ‘save lives’.
Christiana Afful-Akonnor, Senior Staff Midwife at the Tema General Hospital, confirms that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a major challenge hampering efforts at meeting maternal and infant mortality goals. She advocated the continuous education of pregnant women, especially in the market place and churches, on the negative effects of alcohol consumption such as deformity, growth retardation and cognitive defects.
According to her, experiences gathered over the years in dealing with pregnant women indicate that quite a number entertain misconceptions that consuming alcohol enables them to eat well. This, she emphatically stated, is highly erroneous, adding that ABL’s efforts are serving to educate, erase these notions, and save lives.
ABL’s Alcohol and Pregnancy programme touches participants. Whether it confirms what they already know about alcohol and pregnancy, with the knowledge empowering them to be resolute in their convictions to avoid such self-destructive tendencies at all cost; or feeds them with new critical information, it shows these women the very palpable and disastrous effects alcohol consumption can have on their innocent, growing foetuses. And for that, they are thankful.