Women want to Know is a campaign which aims to encourage health professionals to speak to women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy, about alcohol and provide advice consistent with the National Health and Medical Research Councils Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol.
At the launch of the campaign in July, AMA representative, Dr Richard Kidd spoke about health professionals’ involvement in the program, acknowledging that doctors are often on the front-line dealing with the effects of drinking, saying that this topic is of great importance to their industry.
The following is an edited transcript of Dr Richard Kidd’s remarks.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) welcomes the opportunity to be at today’s launch and strongly supports the Women Want to Know Campaign, which is, as we have heard, the first national project to promote the revised maternal alcohol consumption guidelines to health professionals.
As most of you will be aware, the AMA has a strong history of advocacy and awareness-raising about harmful alcohol use.
As doctors who are often on the front-line in dealing the effects of drinking, I and my colleagues in the AMA come to this issue with a very vivid personal awareness of the harms that alcohol can cause. In large part, it is this awareness that motivates the AMA to put so much energy into policy and advocacy to reduce the harms of excess alcohol use.
A key priority is addressing the consumption of alcohol by pregnant women. As we heard earlier today, as many as one in five pregnant women continue to drink alcohol after they become aware of their pregnancy. As we have also heard, the consequences of this drinking can be devastating.
Drinking during pregnancy has been linked to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), preterm birth, low birth weight and increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome. FASD is the most common preventable cause of birth defects in Australia, and has profound lifelong consequences, impacting not only on individuals but also on families, the health care system, the social service system, the criminal justice system, and the education and employment systems.
Despite the recognised consequences of drinking during pregnancy, in Australia there is limited awareness in Australia about the risks of alcohol during pregnancy.
This is why the project that is being launched today is so important.
Health professionals can play a key role in informing women about the effects of alcohol. The AMA recognises that routine screening is a vital element in preventing drinking during pregnancy; the leading cause of preventable birth defects. Because most women seek prenatal care during their first trimester, this is an opportune time to help them make the changes necessary for a health pregnancy.
It is important for health professionals to know that conversations about alcohol with women who are pregnant and planning a pregnancy are wanted, welcome and worth their time. Research shows that women are willing to make changes to their lives during pregnancy to provide the best for their babies, and conversations with health professional can potentially prevent a child being born with FASD.
Earlier this morning we heard from Senator Fiona Nash about the Government’s recent announcement to fund the National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Action Plan. The AMA commend the Government’s commitment and, as part of the strategy that has been announced, we are also pleased to see a specific focus on building on programs such as the Women Want to Know Project and providing education and support to medical professionals in preventing FASD.
While this is a welcome and important first step, more needs to be done if we are to prevent and address FASD in Australia. For too long, the issue of FASD has been neglected in Australia, with little or no support in its prevention, diagnosis and early intervention or management. The AMA hopes to see further funding committed to addressing the full range of measures that this issue warrants.
We also urge the Government to reconsider last week’s decision to not mandate pregnancy warning on alcohol products, despite the evidence that effective health warning labels can raise awareness about the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
Similarly, the AMA recognises that alcohol consumption during pregnancy does not occur in isolation, but is a result of a broader drinking culture that encourages and reinforces alcohol consumption through the excessive availability, affordability and marketing of alcohol.
The AMA believes that any attempt to tackle FASD must occur within a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to reduce harmful drinking across the population. We will continue to advocate for policy changes to address the range of factors that contribute to harmful drinking among pregnant women and the wider community.
As part of this advocacy, the AMA encourages health professionals to use the resources and supports provided by the Women Want to Know project, and will continue to help raise awareness of the risks of alcohol during pregnancy, both among health professionals and the wider community.
To find out more about the Women Want to Know campaign, visit www.alcohol.gov.au