A Maple Ridge pioneer in the treatment and diagnosis of the condition has an idea that could stop FASD in its tracks.
Take the women who are at risk of drinking while pregnant, women with no help or no money, take those women under the arm and house them in a nice hotel or apartment.
Keep them occupied and away from the bottle. Help them get started, at least temporarily, on a new life.
“Lavish her with care for the nine months for the pregnancy,” says Dr. Kwadwo Asante, medical director at The Asante Centre in Maple Ridge.
“It’s expensive, from the beginning, up-front,” he says.
“What happens now? The cost is horrendous.”
Helping expecting moms abstain from alcohol is far cheaper than treating fetal-alcohol affected children for lifelong disabilities. It’s cheaper than the lengthy, never-ending health-care costs that involve diagnosing the condition, treating language delays, learning disabilities, vision and hearing problems, treating attention deficit disorder, caring for later substance-abuse issues, to which FAS kids are prone, and paying for prison and court costs and the overall costs to society of people who don’t realize their potential.
Asante offers the suggestions and remembers the plight of a single mom he treated in Haines Junction in the Yukon during his 30 years serving the remote northern communities.
Someone gave the expecting mom a book on how to raise her baby, at a time the woman was just enduring a lonely existence in a bare apartment. All she needed was a place to call home, he recalls.
She started drinking.
“No mother really wants to harm the unborn baby,” says Asante.
After a career of leading the way in treating and diagnosis and raising awareness about FAS, Asante recognizes that prevention of the condition isn’t a simple thing with one solution.
He still favours putting warning labels on booze bottles, as is done in the U.S., but notes that’s just one part of a solution.
Often people don’t read the labels.
Asante said the centre confirms about 70 FASD cases a year.
Assessments are also done in New Westminster, Abbotsford and B.C. Children’s Hospital while education is improving awareness of the condition.
He’d also like more education and awareness taught in the health-care system. And many in the general public still aren’t aware.
Over the years, he’s become more aware of the power of addictions, the difficulty of substance abuse. People drink for a variety of reasons.
“Many are poor and they drink to drown their misfortunes.
“They can’t quit,” he says.
“This is where the community and family support comes in.”
Still, the message is slowly sinking that drinking heavily while pregnant will harm the child.
Now it’s matter of getting the message out that no amount of alcohol is safe. You wouldn’t serve your six-month-old baby alcohol, Asante said.
As a result, the frequency of full spectrum FASD, which results in facial abnormalities or mental retardation is also declining.
“But we are still getting children with brain injuries who are not easily diagnosed.”
Asante says the health-care system is now dealing with moms who drink and do drugs, making diagnosis even more complex and difficult.
Alcohol, though, because of its solubility in the body and the brain, is still the most damaging.
“Alcohol is the worst.”