N.W.T. MLAs call for formal fetal alcohol spectrum disorder strategy, health minister says no need
Some MLAs are calling for a formal plan to combat FASD in the territory
The Yellowknife Association for Community Living began its fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) awareness campaign on Friday, as some MLAs called on the government to implement a formal strategy to combat the spectrum of disorders in the territory.
The association is delivering pregnancy tests to 12 Yellowknife establishments to dispense in their washrooms.
Lynn Elkin, executive director for the association, wants the campaign to get people thinking about the possibility they might be pregnant while they are out on the town. The pregnancy tests come with information about FASD and a collection of mocktail, or non-alcoholic, drink recipes.
"We know people were using it," she said about the campaign in previous years. "We did have some phone calls that came where people said, 'I'm [tested] positive and I was out at the bar last night so what should I be doing?'"
Territory should do more, say 2 MLAs
MLAs Cory Vanthuyne and Julie Green both applaud the work the association is doing. In fact, they both say they'd like to see the territorial government dedicate resources specifically to FASD awareness, prevention and support.
Vanthuyne applauds work done by Health Minister Glen Abernethy as chair of the Canada Northwest FASD partnership, but said there are areas where the government can do better.
He supports a 10-year plan to fight FASD.
"I think it's something that would get pretty good support from the members of the Legislative Assembly," Vanthuyne said.
Abernethy says his department is working on a disability action plan, which he says will include those with FASD, and expects to have the plan in MLAs' hands by Christmas.
But Abernethy added that a dedicated plan to reduce FASD isn't what the territory needs.
"We have a lot of action plans," he said. "We need to take action rather than write these things."
Alberta finishes 10-year strategy to combat FASD
In Alberta, one government official says the province is "leaps and bounds" ahead of where it was 10 years ago in regards to FASD, thanks to an innovative 10-year strategy which wrapped up earlier this year.
Janice Penner, the manager of FASD initiatives with that province's Department of Community and Social Services, explained why she felt the initiative worked.
"Our approach in working with community was absolutely critical to our success," she said.
Through the strategy, the government of Alberta has published data that paints a clear picture of the costs of FASD in the province. Approximately 46,000 Albertans live with FASD, costing the government $837 million per year. According to the Institute of Health Economics, the Alberta Government saves $784,000 for each prevented case of FASD.
As part of the strategy, Alberta implemented the Parent Child Assistance Program which partners women vulnerable to alcoholism and addiction to a support worker for a period of three years. Through this program alone, the government estimates it prevented 31 cases of FASD between 2008 and 2011, saving $22 million.
Penner wasn't able to provide an exact amount the government spent to implement this strategy, but estimated it was $16.5 million per year, with a bit more spent in earlier years.
No FASD research in N.W.T.
According to a department spokesperson, the Department of Health and Social Services has never studied FASD in the N.W.T.
The territorial government has also never attempted to collect prevalence rates either, but refers to national studies that suggest up to four per cent of Canadians live with it. Four per cent of the N.W.T.'s population adds up to approximately 1,760 people.
At Stanton Territorial Hospital, an FASD Community and Family Support Program completes 10 FASD assessments per year. Those 10 patients get support through the program until they are 18 years old. After that, the government refers them to the same support services offered to all residents with disabilities.
N.W.T. residents over the age of 19 can't get a diagnosis in the territory, and the Department of Health does not offer a way for people in this age group to get a diagnosis in the South.
Elkin said she isn't sure a multi-million dollar, 10-year strategy would make much of a difference in the territory.
"I think it's just a matter of supporting people," she said.