Across Canada, about one in 100 babies born is affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
In Northwestern Ontario, that number is almost certainly higher, in a region where alcohol abuse is more rampant than other parts of the country.
“I would say some communities suffer more than that,” said Kelly Hicks, a community support worker at the Indian Friendship Centre in Thunder Bay.
“Where there’s a lot of poverty, where there’s a lot of drinking, where there’s a lot of addictions going on, of course it’s going to be higher.”
Locally, there are too many people suffering the after effects of a mother drinking while pregnant who are improperly diagnosed when a problem becomes apparent.
“They start the school year and they get diagnosed with ADHD or some other kind of behavioural problems, later to find out it was prenatal exposure to alcohol and they have a brain injury that is causing the behaviours that they have,” Hicks said.
On Monday her organization held a powwow to raise awareness of the disease, which can lead to birth defects, mental health issues and a variety of other problems later in life for those afflicted with FASD.
It’s all about generating knowledge about a disease that may be well-known and talked about in larger communities, but not as well-known in smaller, more remote communities where health care might be lacking.
Hicks said when she first started working in the field more than a decade ago, many of her clients had no clue the effect alcohol can have on a baby in the womb.
Thankfully, it’s starting to change, she said.
But there’s still plenty of room for improvement on the awareness front.
“Now, when I go to talk to people they at least know. So there is a progression where we’re seeing people have the understanding of what it is,” Hicks said. “But it’s still a struggle. People with addiction, they can’t just quit. It threatens the baby’s life and it also threatens their life if they have an addiction and they were to just quit cold turkey.
“It is a struggle, but by doing things like this, we’re getting at least the awareness out there that it is an issue.”
FASD has long been a pet project of MP John Rafferty (NDP, Thunder Bay-Rainy River), who said he’s got a pair of private-member bills before the House of Commons dealing with the disease, both of which have passed first reading.
First and foremost he’d like to see the mandatory labelling of alcohol containers with a warning about drinking while pregnant.
The second is more general in nature, he said.
“It calls on the government to have a national strategy to work with FASD. You don’t have many health issues that are 100 per cent preventable. FASD is preventable, and 100 per cent preventable,” Rafferty said.
He added he hopes the bills return for a second reading and subsequent debate in Parliament when the prime minister recalls the House later this fall.
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