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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin
 

Protecting unborn babies from alcohol-related harm

Date posted: 21 March 2014

Alcohol and drug use during pregnancy can harm the unborn baby. It can also cause miscarriage, preterm birth, and stillbirth. If an unborn baby is exposed to alcohol it can be affected for life. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is the umbrella term for impairments of the growth and development of the brain and the central nervous system caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia have shown how communities can take action to protect their women and babies from alcohol-related harm in pregnancy.

The remote Fitzroy Valley, in the Kimberley region of the north of Western Australia, is renowned for its ancient reefs, huge boab trees, strong culture, and vivid art. The region is also home to about 4,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are spread across 45 communities.

As in many disadvantaged communities around the world, alcohol use was common half a decade ago. The high consumption of alcohol resulted in high numbers of alcohol-related deaths and suicides, and widespread violence and crime.

In 2007, the Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley recognised that many babies suffered from disorders associated with high rates of alcohol use during pregnancy. The high numbers of babies exposed to alcohol in pregnancy triggered Aboriginal women to take action to protect their communities from alcohol use and alcohol use in pregnancy.

June Oscar, an Aboriginal leader and head of the Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre in Fitzroy Crossing, has lead Aboriginal communities successfully urged liquor licensing authorities to restrict the take-away sale of all alcoholic beverages but low strength beer in Fitzroy Crossing. After the restrictions were introduced domestic violence in the Aboriginal communities fell by 43% and alcohol-related presentations to hospital more than halved. The restrictions have since been extended indefinitely and taken up by some other rural communities.

Source: World Health Organisation

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Last updated: 20 March 2014
 
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