Published on March 26th, 2014 | from CAMH

Preventing and treating FASD in Canada’s North

Senior Scientist Lana Popova blogs about her experience at the Canada Northwest FASD Partnership Symposium.

The Northwest Territories met me with a brilliantly sunny day, a blue sky and temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius. Everything was covered in pure white sparkling snow (which made me greatly regret not having packed my sunglasses). I arrived at the Canada Northwest Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Partnership Symposium hosted by the Department of Health and Social Services of NWT in Yellowknife at the beginning of March.

One goal of this symposium was to raise awareness about the harmful effects of consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Another was to discuss culturally suitable approaches and initiatives aimed at preventing FASD and improving the treatment and quality of life of the people, and their families in the Northern communities of Canada, living with this disorder.

Speakers at the symposium stressed that FASD is a concern in Northern Canada, and its social and economic impact directly and/or indirectly affects everyone who lives there. As one of the plenary speakers at this symposium, I presented all existing data on frequency of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and FASD, in both Northern communities and the general population of Canada. I highlighted that the first step in understanding the severity and impact of FASD is to determine how many people have this condition.

According to the current research literature, alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and, as a consequence, FASD, occurs more often in the Northern communities of Canada compared to the general population. However, the research studies that report such findings are outdated and the way they were conducted is problematic (for example, they were performed in small, isolated communities, and/or they did not adhere to reliable diagnostic techniques or guidelines). Therefore, in order to obtain reliable estimates on the number of people living with FASD among the Northern communities of Canada, it is absolutely necessary to conduct rigorous population studies. Once this information is available, policies and programs can be planned to benefit those living with FASD and to prevent more children from being born with this condition.

I shared with the participants of the symposium that our team in the Social and Epidemiological Research (SER) department at CAMH is currently conducting a study, which is also part of the World Health Organization International Collaborative Research Project on the frequency of neurodevelopmental disorders, including FASD. As part of this study, we are screening elementary school children from a sample of schools in the Greater Toronto Area. I stressed that our study design can be shared and implemented in other communities of Canada, including the Northern communities.

I am pleased to say that there is an interest from Northern communities to conduct a study in collaboration with CAMH. This symposium helped to establish vital and invaluable collaborations with researchers and practitioners working in FASD, maternal substance use and other related fields in Northern Canada.

FASD is not a race-specific issue and can affect people from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds around the world. Recent research on FASD from different countries can be found in two special issues on FASD (March 2014 and November 2013), co-edited by guest editor, Dr. Christina Chambers of the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and myself in the International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, supported by CAMH and the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

General information on FASD and its prevention can be found in the brochure “Alcohol and Pregnancy: Protect Your Child” which our team at SER recently developed.

FASD is preventable! There is NO safe amount, type of alcoholic beverage, or time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Make a safe choice for your child – do not drink ANY alcohol during pregnancy and/or when you are trying to get pregnant!


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