De Aar in the Northern Cape has a higher level of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) among seven and eight-year-old children than any other community studied, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Tuesday.
In a written reply to a parliamentary question, he said the findings of a study involving 534 Grade 1 pupils from seven primary schools in the district revealed over half had "shown features of FAS".
A total of 45 children in De Aar (8.4%) were diagnosed with FAS, and 22 (4.1%) had shown several features of the syndrome, but not enough to confirm a diagnosis.
"De Aar revealed a prevalence of 103 per 1 000 (10.3%), which makes it the most heavily-affected community with FAS thus far investigated in South Africa," Motsoaledi said.
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Foetal alcohol syndrome is a disorder caused in unborn babies when the pregnant mother drinks alcohol.
Motsoaledi said similar FAS studies had been conducted among certain Gauteng and Western Cape communities. "The combined data for Gauteng... revealed a prevalence of FAS of 18 per 1 000 (1.8%) among school-entry children."
Figures from a study conducted in the wine-lands town of Wellington in the Western Cape were higher. "All the school-entry children (Grade 1) from 12 primary schools in Wellington [992 children] were screened for FAS.
"A FAS diagnosis was confirmed in 46 children, indicating a prevalence of 46.8 per 1 000 (4.7%) school children examined."
However, the incidence of FAS among rural school children in the district was almost five times that of their urban counterparts.
"In rural school children [243 children] investigated, 28 (11.6 percent) were diagnosed with FAS; in urban school children [749 children], 18 (2.4%) were diagnosed with FAS."
A second study of 849 children had found 8.8% with FAS, giving an overall prevalence of 66 per 1 000. The studies were conducted between 1997 and 2001, Motsoaledi said. – (Sapa, July 2009)
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