PAHO launches online course to address alcohol use in pregnancy

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(CMC) The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), worried that the rates of alcohol disorders among women are higher in the region of the Americas than in any other region of the world, has launched a new initiative to provide health care workers with the technical skills they need to identify and address alcohol consumption in pregnant women and those of reproductive age.

The online course, “Women’s health and pregnancy: holistic approaches to preventing problems relating to prenatal exposure to alcohol”, provides health workers with the latest, evidence-based information on health promotion strategies for pregnancy; the early detection of alcohol use in pregnancy; and how to support women to reduce alcohol use.

“Alcohol use in pregnancy presents a significant risk for both pregnant women and their foetus, leading to a number of negative outcomes such as miscarriage, low birth weight and preterm birth, and can lead to foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which are irreversible” said Senior Advisor on Alcohol and Substance Abuse at PAHO Dr Maristela Monteiro.

“It is vital that health care workers have access to the latest research in order to implement appropriate interventions before women become pregnant, as this will ensure the best outcomes for mother and child,” she added.

PAHO said that while men have historically been the bigger consumers of alcohol and suffer from more alcohol-induced consequences, women are increasingly drinking larger amounts of alcohol and more often.

It said most women are unaware of their status in the first months of pregnancy, and may continue to drink, unknowingly putting their unborn child at risk.

“This is particularly significant in the Americas, where 3.2 per cent of women aged 15 years and older are estimated to have an alcohol use disorder, which is two and a half times the global average of 1.3 per cent. This puts them at increased risk of a number of other health problems, including breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. It is more difficult to reduce or stop drinking when a disorder already exists, and even more difficult during pregnancy. “

According to PAHO, alcohol use is a clear risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes including stillbirth, miscarriage, premature birth, intrauterine growth impairment, and low birth weight.

It said, globally, the prevalence of alcohol use in pregnancy among the general population is 9.8 per cent, while in the Americas, including the Caribbean, this figure is 11.2 per cent.

“Consuming alcohol during pregnancy, even in small amounts can cause the unborn child to develop foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD includes mental disorders such as learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and speech and language delays, and physical disorders, including abnormal facial features, vision and hearing problems, and heart, kidney or bone conditions.

“These disorders affect people during their entire lifetime. FASD is infrequently diagnosed in most countries of the Region so health professionals need to become more aware of these conditions, so that early detection results in the necessary health, education and social services being made available to affected individuals,” PAHO added.

PAHO said that the online course is designed for health professionals, including nurses, psychologists, doctors, and community health workers, as well as others who work in primary health care, maternal health and mental health.