Pretoria - The South African government is taking a fresh approach in dealing with the scourge of alcohol abuse, especially amongst pregnant women.
It has challenged the liquor industry to re-evaluate the type of advertisements that portray drinking alcohol as prestigious and the myth that excessive drinking is acceptable.
"Alcohol abuse can never amount to acceptable behaviour regardless of the day on which it is consumed," Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini told the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Indaba, currently underway in Johannesburg.
Dlamini said the call was spurred by the recognition of the complexity of the problem, and that only collective action would yield any results in reducing the number of people dependent on alcohol.
The problem knows no age, race or gender, but it is particularly challenging amongst pregnant women. The legacy of alcohol abuse on the developing foetus is a lifetime of dealing with FAS, or Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Children are born with mental and physical defects, which set them back in development when compared with their peers. Emotional and intellectual growth is severely stunted.
South Africa is one of the countries with the highest alcohol consumption and incidence of babies born with FAS, which the minister said was unacceptable.
This is despite a law which demands that liquor companies must place labels on their products, warning consumers of the health problems associated with alcohol consumption.
Studies conducted in rural populations and those associated with wine farms in the Western Cape show that 50 per 1 000 school-entry children have FASD.
Dlamini revealed that in four disadvantaged communities in Gauteng, the rate is 26.5 per 1 000 children.
This situation is extreme in De Aar and Upington in the Northern Cape, where prevalence rates exceed 100 per 1 000 children and 70 per 1 000 children respectively.
In a broader context, Dlamini said, the problem was more than just a health or social issue - rather one that threatens the stability and success of the nation.
She called on South Africans to defy any form of destructive consumerism.
The FAS Indaba brings together NGOs and government to try to find ways to stem out substance abuse.