Waikato DHB proposes to take action on fetal alcohol disorder
The Waikato District Health Board plans to submit a proposal to address fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a condition that could affect 4000 people in the region the board covers.
The disorder (FASD) has been described by medical professionals as one of New Zealand's biggest health problems, yet the Ministry of Health does not have a comprehensive plan to tackle the issue.
There is no New Zealand data on the prevalence of the disorder, but American data suggests it affects 1 per cent of the population.
The disorder is not curable, but can be prevented through health education and campaigns and there are programmes to treat children suffering from it.
A discussion published by the ministry in December addressed the impact of FASD in New Zealand.
The Waikato Disability Support Advisory Committee met on Wednesday, hoping to contribute to the national plan.
Committee member Tania Hodges said in order to combat the disorder, New Zealand's drinking culture would need to change.
"One of the things for me, apart from all the comments that are being made about more data information and more issues, is we're still taking a piecemeal approach to this," she said.
"We could be having the same conversation about harm, road accidents, suicide, cancer ... so there's a whole emphasis that needs to be focussed on, but our drinking culture and the acceptability of binge drinking is not right."
Hodges said scare tactics alone would not work, as women are living in communities where alcohol is central.
"As a region and as a country, we really need to look at alcohol the way we look at smoking," she said.
Committee member David Slone agreed; however, added that "in the short term, we do have an issue where we need an ambulance at the bottom".
"What we've found, with things like autism, is that early on, when they don't know if [a child has] a mental illness or a disability, it slips straight through the middle and nothing gets done," Slone said.
"Has fetal alcohol syndrome been ticked in a box so that someone has ownership of it at a ministry level?"
Polly Atatoa Carr, a director of the Growing Up in New Zealand study based at the University of Auckland, said there seems to be worldwide attention on FASD at the moment.
And in the next few months, Carr and her team will be collating data from the 7000 children who were part of Growing Up in New Zealand study.
She also said the World Health Organisation is conducting a prevalence study that the Ministry of Health is keeping an eye out for.
Submissions are due with the ministry on Friday, February 26.