An inquiry on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

An inquiry on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has been told men could be just as responsible for causing the condition as women.

A Northern Territory select committee inquiry into action to prevent FASD held public hearings in Alice Springs after visiting Katherine and Tennant Creek.

Criminal lawyer Russell Goldflam presented the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition’s submission and told the inquiry stopping men and women drinking alcohol is the only real solution to prevent damage to the foetus.

Outside the hearing he told reporters new research from South Korea shows an embryo can be affected at the time of conception by compromised semen from men who drink excessively.

“This is very early days. The research has only been done on animals at this stage and it was only published a few months ago,” he said.

What is FASD?

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term given to a range of conditions caused by alcohol exposure during pregnancy. There is no agreed way of screening, diagnosing or even defining the condition.

Signs and symptoms of FASD:

• Low birth weight
• Small head circumference
• Failure to thrive
• Feeding problems
• Sensitivity to noise, touch and/or light
• Developmental delay.

In an older child:

• Learning difficulties
• Developmental delays
• Attention deficit/hyperactivity/ADHD
• Memory problems
• Difficulties with social relationships
• Impulsiveness
• Inappropriate behaviour
• Poor understanding of consequences
• Major organ damage.

Source: NT Centre for Disease Control, April 2014

“But it may well be that in some cases FASD is nothing to do with the drinking of the mother but may be from the drinking of the father who helped conceive that child.”

He said the research could have profound implications on policy responses to FASD.

“Instead of focussing on ‘irresponsible women who drink’ we need to cast our net more broadly and develop policies in the population overall, including men,” he said.

Push for a floor price on alcohol

The group has lobbied for years for the Northern Territory Government to introduce a floor price to control alcohol sales.

It has also urged the NT not to impose policies that criminalise the behaviour of women who drink when they’re pregnant.

“We’re now beginning to realise the enormity of the problem of children not even being born with a real chance in life because they’re afflicted with this inherited condition which stunts their growth, stunts their development as individuals, stunts their potential,” Mr Goldflam said.

“It may turn out that there are so many people in this category that it stunts our community as a whole.”

The Public Health Association’s Dr Rosalie Schultz told the inquiry by the time most women realise they are pregnant the baby is already affected by FASD.

She said this meant efforts to reduce the prevalence of the disorder needed to apply to the entire population, not just women who drink when they are pregnant.

Source: 1st Aug.2014

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