Fears FASD cases will increase

Anita Gibbs
Anita Gibbs
A University of Otago researcher fears increased alcohol purchases during the Covid-19 lockdown may result in more babies being born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) next year.

Associate Prof Anita Gibbs said the disorder affected 3000 babies born in New Zealand annually but many people were undiagnosed.

The numbers might rise in 2021, she said.

Prof Gibbs is a social worker who lectures in social work, sociology and criminology courses at Otago.

She is worried about a gap in funding to help families and children where FASD has been diagnosed.

She also has a personal connection with the disorder through two sons adopted from a Russian orphanage.

She and husband Michael Gibbs adopted the brothers in 2007. They were diagnosed with FASD in Dunedin in 2014.

The adoption process included three visits to Russia.

‘‘We wanted to reach out and provide a home to children that didn’t have one," Prof Gibbs said.

She had been aware her sons might have attachment difficulties or ADHD.

She did a lot of reading before the FASD diagnoses came through.

The brothers are now aged 16 and 17.

FASD is a group of conditions that can occur in a person where alcohol has been consumed by their mother during pregnancy.

It is a brain injury that affects decision-making, emotional regulation and communication skills.

Prof Gibbs was awarded the 2020 Critic and Conscience of Society Award by the Gama Foundation for raising the profile of FASD in New Zealand.

"Because this disability is not currently formally recognised by our Government, it means that thousands of sufferers do not get any support but they end up using enormous amounts of our mental health, social welfare and corrections services," Prof Gibbs said.

"Solutions include early diagnosis, wraparound services, appointment of qualified case managers and, most importantly, prevention activities to reduce drinking alcohol by those planning to become pregnant.”


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