Fitzroy children centre of Foetal Alcohol Disorder study

ABORIGINAL organisations in Fitzroy Valley have called for research into social, health and wellbeing issues associated with alcohol abuse.

Paediatrician James Fitzpatrick is leading one investigation into Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Fitzroy Valley children.

“The effects of alcohol in pregnancy are the leading cause of environmental intellectual impairment worldwide,” Dr Fitzpatrick says.

“The foetus can suffer permanent brain damage, as well as other birth defects affecting the face, heart, lungs, kidneys and musculoskeletal system.”

Dr Fitzpatrick says his research is part of the Lililwan Project, a program initiated by Aboriginal women’s organisation Marninwarntukuru and Nindilingarri Cultural Health Service.

“High-risk drinking behaviour in some remote communities was leading to rates of FASD that could wipe out an entire generation’s chance of a healthy and productive life,” Dr Fitzpatrick says.

“Compounding this is the threat to Aboriginal culture that relies on learned stories and traditions.”

The team designed an active case ascertainment population-based prevalence study to determine the problem’s prevalence in the community.

Children born from 2001-2002 who were living in Fitzroy Valley communities in 2009-2010 were tested.

Ninety-five per cent of that age group were properly assessed.

“We expect to find out accurately the number of children in this age range exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, as well as the proportion of these children with one of the three specific diagnoses along the FASD spectrum,” Dr Fitzpatrick says.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Neurodevelopmental Disorder-Alcohol Exposed are the three types of FASD.

An exhaustive three hour questionnaire was completed with the help of each child’s parent or carer, to ascertain whether the mother had any health or other issues during pregnancy.

“We also asked questions about the child’s behaviour and learning and educational outcomes,” Dr Fitzpatrick says.

“In addition to these questionnaires each child participated in approximately six hours of clinical assessments.”

He says these included examinations by ophthalmologists and audiologists, and assessments by paediatricians, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, child psychologists and physiotherapists.

“We have an on-going relationship with the community in the establishment of a community model of care for supporting children who have FASD, and also in following up on the referrals and recommendations that we made during the study.”

The final report will be submitted to government in June 2013, with research papers due to come out during 2012.