Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in a South African City with a Predominantly Black African Population

Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa)


Background: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) are com-mon in some South African populations, notably those of mixed ancestry descent in rural areas andsmall towns. Little is known about FAS/FASD prevalence in the majority of South Africans: city dwell-ers of Black African ethnicity. This study describes the prevalence of FAS in a South African city, com-paring 2 suburbs with predominantly mixed ancestry (Roodepan) and Black African (Galeshewe)populations that house over 60% of the city population.

Methods: We conducted a tiered, active case ascertainment study for the prevalence of FAS andalso detected some less clinically specific FASD cases. All first-grade learners in the 2 suburbs were eligi-ble for anthropometric screening, and screen-positive learners were assessed for dysmorphic features ofFAS. Those with suggestive clinical features received neurocognitive assessment, and maternal or col-lateral interview. Final diagnosis was made following a case conference.

Results: Complete ascertainment of FAS status was made in 1,503 (94.7%) of 1,587 eligible learners(435 in Roodepan and 1,152 in Galeshewe). Overall, FAS was diagnosed in 83 (5.5%, 95% confidenceinterval [CI] = 4.4 to 6.8) learners and FASD in 96 (6.4%, 95% CI = 5.2 to 7.7). Levels of FAS werehigh in both areas: 26 (6.3%, 95% CI = 4.2 to 9.2) learners from Roodepan, compared to 57 (5.2%,95% CI = 4.0 to 6.7) from Galeshewe (p = 0.39). No cases were previously diagnosed. The mortalityrate for mothers of FASD children from Galeshewe was 19 of 65 (29%), compared to 3 of 31 (9.7%;p = 0.03) for Roodepan. Interviewed mothers in Galeshewe were older and had higher body massindex.

Conclusions: Prevalence of FAS is high in both Galeshewe and Roodepan, and the lack of priordiagnoses indicates that awareness remains low. The maternal mortality rate was especially high inGaleshewe. The unexpectedly high burden of FAS in an urban area with predominantly Black Africanpopulation mandates extension of surveillance and intervention measures in southern Africa.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research