Even a hotels association is calling for banning pregnant women from alcohol in the West Australian town of Halls Creek. The town is a major welfare hub for the local indigenous population.
Making the call, Bradley Woods, Chief Executive of the Australian Hotels Association, said government payments in the Kimberley community of Halls Creek had only encouraged chronic alcoholics to drink more.
AdvertisementMr Woods said 30 per cent of all children born in Halls Creek had foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and 80 to 90 per cent of all pregnant women in the town were chronic alcoholics.
Suzanne Smith of the ABC News reported that drinking levels were out of control at Halls Creek.
"In 2007, former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley said the rates of fetal alcohol syndrome in the Kimberley were alarming. In Halls Creek, it is believed to be 21 times the WA state average," she said.
David Shepherd, a senior doctor at the Halls Creek hospital said, "80 to 90 per cent of the pregnant mothers here do drink and therefore, 80 to 90 per cent of those kids are going to be affected.
"Children affected by FAS often have problems with attention and with hyperactivity. They often have problems socializing, problems making friends, or conversely, they may be over-friendly and exhibit inappropriate sexuality," he said.
But the problem is that it is very difficult to tell here in Halls Creek if a child's got learning difficulties because the literacy rates there are so poor anyway.
Dr. Shepherd noted, "I think that's a very hard thing to diagnose. It's much easier when, you know, their brains haven't developed at all and their face has, you know, got the cranio-abnormalities that we can say, "Well, that's obviously from the alcohol."
The WA Director of Liquor Licensing is investigating tough restrictions on the sale of liquor in Halls Creek.
The Halls Creek community could face similar restrictions to those imposed on other indigenous communities in the region, including Fitzroy Crossing and Oombulgurri.
Mr Woods said the AHA had made submissions for a ban on the sale of alcohol to pregnant women to the director and the WA racing and gaming minister.
Licensees in the Kimberley have self-regulated alcohol sales for a number of years, limiting trading hours and the volume of alcohol sold.
But it is not as if the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is confined to the indigenous communities alone. Actually not much is known about the prevalence of the problem among the rest, but it has not been studied sufficiently.
Elizabeth Elliot, an expert from the Pediatrics and Child Health specialist from the University of Sydney, says, "We need also to look at specific strategies that have been adopted overseas and see which of those are effective for prevention of drinking during pregnancy. And we need to look also at whether strategies used in Australia, for example - dry communities, taxation, etc. - have actually made a difference."
"We need better diagnostic facilities to be able to diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome. And we need management strategies for assisting parents with children that are affected," said Carol Bower of the Centre for Child Health Research.