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

Michael F. Urban, Leana Olivier, Denis Viljoen, Chanelle Lombard, Jacobus G. Louw, Lian Marie Drotsky, Marleen Temmerman, Matthew F. Chersich

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37 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) are common in some South African populations, notably those of mixed ancestry descent in rural areas and small towns. Little is known about FAS/FASD prevalence in the majority of South Africans: city dwellers of Black African ethnicity. This study describes the prevalence of FAS in a South African city, comparing 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 and also detected some less clinically specific FASD cases. All first-grade learners in the 2 suburbs were eligible for anthropometric screening, and screen-positive learners were assessed for dysmorphic features of FAS. Those with suggestive clinical features received neurocognitive assessment, and maternal or collateral 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% confidence interval [CI] = 4.4 to 6.8) learners and FASD in 96 (6.4%, 95% CI = 5.2 to 7.7). Levels of FAS were high 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 mortality rate 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 mass index. Conclusions: Prevalence of FAS is high in both Galeshewe and Roodepan, and the lack of prior diagnoses indicates that awareness remains low. The maternal mortality rate was especially high in Galeshewe. The unexpectedly high burden of FAS in an urban area with predominantly Black African population mandates extension of surveillance and intervention measures in southern Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1016-1026
Number of pages11
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Ethnicity
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Prevalence
  • South Africa


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