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Experts gather to discuss action on Fetal Alcohol Disorder

Experts gather to discuss action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in New Zealand

A national symposium ‘FASD in New Zealand: A Time to Act’ will be held on Friday 5 September at the University of Auckland’s Tamaki campus. The Symposium is a collaboration between Alcohol Healthwatch and the University’s Centre for Addiction Research to bring experts from a range of disciplines together to increase awareness of the implications of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The aim is to seek broad cross-sectoral consensus on a plan of action for research, policy and prevention and the delivery of care to those affected by FASD in New Zealand.

The Symposium’s keynote speaker is FASD expert Dr Jocelyn Cook who heads up Canada’s largest FASD research network CanFASD. Dr Cook will be joined by other distinguished speakers including New Zealand’s Commissioner for Children Dr Russell Wills and Auckland District and Youth Court Judge, Tony FitzGerald.

The Symposium will be followed by a Policy and Research Roundtable on 9 September. The two events bring researchers, teachers, community care providers, family advocates and policy makers together to advance knowledge and action on FASD.

Christine Rogan, who coordinates the FASD network for Alcohol Healthwatch says FASD is an umbrella term for a range of physical, cognitive and behavioural impairments caused by alcohol exposure during fetal development.

“Impairments can include growth retardation, facial and other organs malformations but primarily FASD is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder, which substantially impairs day-to-day functioning and social interactions. These pose major challenges for individuals with FASD, their families, and treatment providers.”

Ms Rogan says it’s important that everyone involved knows what can be done to improve outcomes for those affected as well as preventing FASD from happening in the first place.

Dr David Newcombe, senior lecturer in Alcohol and Drug Studies and Associate Director of the Centre for Addiction Research at the University of Auckland, says FASD is the leading preventable cause of intellectual disabilities in the developed world, yet remarkably, no reliable data has been gathered on its prevalence in New Zealand.

“Based on overseas studies and our drinking patterns, we could have as many as 3000 babies a year born with FASD. Better information is vital to develop effective policy and health sector responses to reduce the prevalence and societal impact of FASD.”

International studies that have identified the prevalence and impact of FASD estimate the lifetime cost of an individual with FASD can run into the millions. He says New Zealand has no systematic programmes that target this vulnerable population and there is little research being done.

The events help to mark World FASD Awareness Day, held every year on 9 September to raise awareness of the risk of drinking during pregnancy and to bring attention to the needs of those born affected by FASD. Symbolic for the nine months of pregnancy, the ninth day of the ninth month is usually marked by a ‘Moment of Reflection’ at 9.09am across the different time zones. New Zealand has been the first to mark FASD Awareness Day since its inception 15 years ago.


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