The Ghana Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (GOFAS), a non-governmental organisation has appealed to government to be committed in helping create awareness on the effect of alcohol on unborn babies.
It said many people in Ghana know little or nothing about the dangers and risks involved in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) during pregnancy and this had led to many children being born with various forms of disabilities.
Ms Regina Amanorbea Dodoo, President and Founder of GOFAS made the call in an address to launch the national awareness campaign and international research presentations, during a two-day international conference on FASD in Accra.
It was on the theme: “Highlighting National Awareness on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Ghana: A Silent Creeping Health Menace.”
FASD leads to permanent brain damage, heart, learning and behaviour problems among children.
The conference, was sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ghana Federation for the Disabled and the Faculty of Social Work, University of Manitoba.
Ms Amanorbea Dodoo said the biggest challenge facing GOFAS is the lack of involvement of stakeholders in discussing the effect of alcoholism on the socio- economic activities of women.
“Our children are our future wealth and for Ghana to progress in her developmental agenda there is the need for everybody to get involved in the awareness creation on the effect of alcohol on babies so as to avoid liabilities,” she stressed.
Dr June Daude, Minister of Social Services, Province of Saskatchewan, Canada said there is the need for government to recognise the work of GOFAS and to provide the needed support to reach out to women to save their unborn babies.
She said: “Pregnancy is a shared responsibility between the man and the woman to ensure the safety of the unborn baby.”
Mr Robert Joseph Mettle-Nunoo, former Deputy Minister of Health said the FAS awareness should be a policy challenge to the Ministry of Education for the training of the country’s health professionals in the field.
He said prominence should be given to education on the effect of tobacco smoking, while Akpeteshie production and sale and aphrodisiac drugs should be regulated.
The Secretary-General, Ghana National Commission for UNESCO, Ministry of Education, Mrs Charity Amamoo noted that FAS is a critical threat to the society.
She said a FAS child poses a threat to others and their families, particularly to the attainment of the objectives of the “education for all” goals and by extension the Millennium Development Goals.
She said the ministry is convinced that dissemination of information through the Parent-Teacher Associations for pregnant mothers to abstain from the use of alcohol would be beneficial.
“We urged district assemblies as well as local communities to take up a proactive role in providing educational programmes relating to substance abuse of which alcoholism is one.”
Mrs Amamoo advised the District Education Oversight Committees to include awareness of FAS in their activities and encourage NGOs in education to serve as crusaders in the fight against FAS.
“For children who are already affected, we shall do our best to continue to put in place strategies such as early detection and educational interventions to enable these children develop their potential and thus reduce their dependence and stigmatisation in the society.
“We think it is rather unfair for such innocent children to go through such huge challenges. We make a special appeal to society to accept and appreciate them when they have graduated from their various educational programmes,” she stated.
In a presentation, Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital said the new Mental Health Act would have to play a role in alcohol management issues including FAS prevention.
“We need to code FAS into our mental health information system to keep the diagnosis on the front burner.”
Dr Osei said mental health professionals have knowledge of FAS but there is the need to train them to raise their index of suspicion to inculcate the habit of looking for it.
He said while FAS is a life-long disorder, early diagnosis can help educate parents to help the patient with early support, counselling and education.
Speaking on the topic; “Stigma, Discrimination and Marginalisation: Gateways to oppression of Persons with Disabilities,” Dr Machel Baffoe, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada advised able persons to: “Take action… and have a voice for those affected by stigma in their quest for wellness and quality of life.”