International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day is commemorated on 09 September annually, to draw attention to the fact that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is dangerous to an unborn baby (www.fasday.com).
According to the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) in South Africa, "FASD is an umbrella term, which includes all possible disorders associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the most severe form of these disorders and the leading cause of preventable mental retardation in the world."
A report released by the FARR earlier this year found that over six percent of children in the Saldanha Bay District Municipality are born with FASD. For Sea Harvest, the largest employer in the Saldanha Bay Municipal area, this is concerning.
Mary-Lou Harry, Sea Harvest Human Resources Director says, "We are deeply concerned by the reports of how FAS is affecting the people of Saldanha Bay. As the single largest employer in Saldanha Bay we take our social responsibility seriously and are committed to scale efforts to raise awareness amongst our staff and indeed the wider community. Although we have been working closely with the Department of Social Development for many years, the report serves as a reminder that the challenge to eliminate this entirely preventable condition is far from over."
Since 2012, six social workers have been permanently based at the Sea Harvest Social Development Office on Saldanha Main Road, a central location in town offering sufficient consulting space to be able to assist all members of the community. More than 600 cases of substance abuse and childcare interventions have been managed by this office which has helped a total of 1 483 locals from Saldanha between 2012 and 2015. Five satellite offices have since opened in the area, further extending the reach of the social workers.
Sea Harvest employs more than 2 500 people, of which 51% are women. "We have partnered with the Department of Social Development to run special support groups for employees at our Saldanha Bay factory. The groups are designed to address social challenges employees face outside of work," says Harry. A Family Enrichment Programme, held on Saturday mornings, helps employees gain confidence in their care-giving skills as parents, consider various family planning options and learn how to remain healthy. Substance Abuse Support Groups meet twice a week, enabling employees who have been through drug or alcohol rehabilitation to gain confidence as they overcome major personal challenges. "We’ve seen a number of the empowered participants return to the groups as volunteer mentors to support those still battling to overcome their addiction," says Harry.
Three nurses and two doctors at Sea Harvest’s on-site clinic ensure staff receive medical attention as required. Services at the clinic include health education and treatment of minor ailments and chronic diseases. Medical referrals from the clinic are covered by Sea Harvest. "Overall employee health is critical and we consider it an absolute necessity to ensure our staff, who are the main breadwinners, are able to work. To date, about R7 million has been invested into employee healthcare at the clinic since November 2013," adds Harry.
"FAS is 100% preventable and 100% irreversible. We understand that caring for children with FAS is challenging and breaking the cycle of alcohol abuse is equally important to avoid new cases of FASD. We are committed to do all we can to improve the health, educational and social needs of the people of Saldanha Bay," concludes Harry.