A new public health campaign to eradicate fetal alcohol syndrome is in the works.
For nearly a year, a group made up of lawmakers, mental health advocates, and Native leaders have been working on a strategy to bring down the number of babies born with the disorder. The syndrome can cause birth defects, nervous system damage, and psychological problems.
The public-private partnership is called “Empowering Hope,” and on Friday, Sen. Pete Kelly called on his fellow lawmakers to support the initiative.
“As we’ve seen with seatbelts, smoking, drunk driving – so many things – that the hearts and minds of Americans and Alaskans can be changed if we focus, and if we identify a problem and we agree as a people that this problem needs to be dealt with.”
One of the key ideas the group has for preventing the syndrome is identifying “natural responders” in the community who can assist pregnant woman who might be likely to consume alcohol. The group also wants to help women identify their pregnancies as early as possible, as a way of stopping drinking early.
About two out of everyone hundred children born in Alaska are believed to have fetal alcohol syndrome, according the state Division of Public Health. Kelly says that many of the state’s social ills like suicide, domestic violence, and substance abuse are associated with that high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome. In his speech on the Senate floor, Kelly said that each case of the syndrome costs the state millions of dollars in care and treatment. The Fairbanks Republican says the number is even higher when you factor incarceration costs for people with the syndrome who then go on to commit crimes.
“If we took a woman who we knew was going to give birth to a fetal alcohol syndrome child, and we flew them first class to Aruba and gave them a seaside five-star hotel, gave them 24-hour care and lavished them with luxuries, then flew them back and gave them a car as a prize — if we did that, we would be so far ahead in this state financially,” says Kelly.
Kelly filed two resolutions in support of the initiative, but has not asked for state funding for the project as of this time.