Update: Since publication of this article, Hay River Health & Social Services Authority has corrected its figures. The authority says Ms MacKay misspoke and six babies in Hay River have shown symptoms of FASD since 2010, not in 2015 alone as originally reported. The headline and copy have been updated accordingly.
Six newborns in Hay River since 2010 have shown symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), and healthcare professionals believe the true number is probably higher.
Residents will march to raise awareness of FASD on Wednesday morning, beginning in the Northmart parking lot at 11am.
Sue MacKay, a member of the town’s community counselling team, says progress against FASD is being made but it remains a grave concern in Hay River.
“Six [babies] have been diagnosed here and that’s just Hay River, that’s not the reserve or any other community,” MacKay told Moose FM.
“Even that is high – but we know there are more.”
Community counsellors, midwives and wellness workers form a first port of call for pregnant women and partners who need to break a drug or drink habit. Three treatment centres are also available, alongside aftercare and relapse prevention services.
But MacKay believes many people still think they and their baby will be immune.
“There’s still a belief – or a denial, I guess – that they can have a sip here or there. But alcohol and drugs will have an effect at every phase of development,” said MacKay.
“I’m not saying everyone is affected but there are effects and we know that, it’s proven.
“The point is that FASD is 100 percent preventable. You just need support to become drug-free and not drink while you’re pregnant, and there is lots of support in the community.”
According to research association CanFASD, the annual cost of FASD to Canada was estimated at $7.6 billion in 2009. Across the country, more than 3,000 babies per year are born with the condition.
“We are making some progress,” said MacKay. “We find younger and younger people are coming in for help with their addictions.
“We’ve had a few women come in who know they’ve become pregnant and have a problem – they come in right away because they don’t want their baby to be affected.
“There’s lots of support available. You just have to be ready to do something about it – which is easier said than done, it really is.”