26 Apr 2024

Government unveils fetal alcohol guidelines, plan for diagnosis training

3:39 pm on 26 April 2024
Shane Reti

Health Minister Shane Reti (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government is promising to step up the response to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), promising to boost diagnoses and raise awareness.

Health Minister Shane Reti unveiled five new initiatives at Papakura Marae on Friday morning including:

  • Offering diagnostic training for health professionals from Child Development Services from July
  • Establishing a new community-led pilot programme to offer targeted support to whānau and caregivers
  • A nationwide prevention campaign to raise awareness and help support risk minimisation
  • Revitalising the existing FASD Action Plan
  • Publishing new FASD clinical diagnostic guidelines tailored for New Zealand communities

FASD can be caused by any level of exposure to alcohol and affects 3 to 5 percent of the population, about 60,000 people. Government guidelines state no level of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

Dr Reti said FASD had gone under-recognised and under-supported for too long.

"There's strong evidence that prevention, early detection and intervention are the most effective ways to improve the health and wellbeing for people with FASD. This programme of work supports that compelling evidence."

He said $2 million had already been allocated to the new initiatives, coming from baseline health funding, alcohol levies and Proceeds of Crime funding.

The new guidelines - setting out diagnosis, good practice and next steps for those diagnosed - were developed by a tāngata tiriti and tāngata whenua team at Māori Public Health Organisation Hāpai te Hauora with support from a steering group and multiple advisory groups, incorporating the experiences of health and whānau professionals.

Hāpai Te Hauora chief executive Jacqui Harema said the advice, interviews with whānau, and months of research showed support for those with FASD was long overdue.

"Every year, up to 3000 of our babies are born with FASD. These new guidelines will hopefully establish a clear assessment and diagnosis pathway that will lead to more support."

FASD Care Action Network chair Leigh Henderson said diagnosis was very difficult to access in New Zealand, with many families spending years to get an assessment and often resorting to private options costing up to $9000.

"Early diagnosis, followed by early interventions and access to disability support, can improve life outcomes for the child with FASD and the family who

supports them," Dr Henderson said.

The Network and other advocates urged the government to make those with FASD eligible for disability support, saying the announcement "gives hope to families living with FASD".

Harema supported that.

"Today's announcement by Minister Shane Reti will bring relief to all involved because while FASD is officially recognised as a disability, there is no access to funding to support families."

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