Foetal alcohol syndrome awareness day marked in September

Vivien Lourens and her foster daughter, Tisha, at the factory where she works.

On September 9, 1999, at 9.09am, the first International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Day was marked in South Africa and internationally.

Twenty years later, co-founder of the day, Vivien Lourens, a Pinelands resident, is still committed to creating awareness about FASD.

She has two foster daughters, Carrie, 28 and Tisha, 23, who suffered from it.

The ninth month and day were chosen to represent the nine months that a woman should abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, though Ms Lourens says that women who are breastfeeding should also not consume alcohol.

Ms Lourens got Tisha when she was just 10-weeks-old. She noticed that Tisha was shaking a lot. This was because of alcohol withdrawal.

Tisha later needed intensive physiotherapy to help her walk.

Ms Lourens says that Tisha can make conversation, though she can’t read and write which made things difficult for her.

“She does not understand the concept of money or consequence,” she said.

Ms Lourens’s own daughter, Lee-anne Holland, 26, says growing up with her two sisters was easy when they were children, though as adults, it is harder to have a connection with them.

Both Tisha and Carrie went to the Bel Porto School in Lansdowne for children with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The women now work in a factory for a retailer in Ndabeni. Their manager Mervyn Tobiansky says they don’t see the women as having disabilities, but as valuable members of their team.

“They come in from Monday to Friday and never take off sick,” says Mr Tobiansky.

Ms Lourens started FASD Day with American Bonnie Buxton and Canadian Teresa Kellerman and over 70 countries now take part in the commemoration.

This year will mark the 21st time that this day is marked with the tolling of bells.

Ms Lourens and her husband, Peter, have been committed to raising awareness of FASD and started their Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Information Centre in 1996.

Their organisation is part of the FASD Task team that works with other organisations which also create awareness of FASD.They work in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Health and the City of Cape Town.

Provincial health department spokesperson, Sandra Maritz says FASD can’t be reversed but it is preventable.

“In the first 1 000 days of a child’s life, from conception until the second birthday, they are most vulnerable as this is the time when the majority of their development takes place.”

Mr Maritz says the provincial health department is urging women to stop drinking alcohol when they are thinking of falling pregnant and to stop drinking alcohol as soon as they think they are pregnant.

“Do not drink alcohol if you are breastfeeding or feeding your baby breast milk, as it can harm the growing baby’s brain, affect their willingness to drink breast milk, and affect their sleep and development.”

The FASD Task team will hold their fifth bi-annual FASD Day on Tuesday September 10 at the Klein Joostenberg Events Venue, Stellenbosch, from 8.30am until 4pm. The main aim of the conference is to share their latest information of FASD with health practitioners, nurses, psychologists, non-profits, parents and social workers who deal closely with children that have FASD.

For more information about the conference email Dr Sandra Marais on smarais39@gmail.com or email Ms Lourens on fasinfocentre@mweb.co.za