Pregnancy test vending machines an 'astounding success' in fight against FASD

The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society Yukon (FASSY) says about 13 pregnancy tests have been sold each month over the last year in Whitehorse, from dispensers installed in public washrooms. 'It can be used there, or it can be taken home, but at least it's available.'

'It's handy, it's there, and it's discreet,' says director of Yukon organization behind project

Jessica Fulmer demonstrates a dispenser in Whitehorse last year, when a project began to install the machines in some public washrooms in Yukon. Fulmer has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and became pregnant herself as a 19-year-old student. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Wenda Bradley admits that she wasn't sure how people in Yukon would respond when her organization, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society Yukon (FASSY), installed pregnancy test dispensers in some public washrooms, last year.

"We were a little concerned because it's a new idea and it's not common," she said.

Turns out, she had no reason to worry. People in Whitehorse have been putting them to good use.

"We are seeing about 13 tests being bought a month, which is great ... I think it's the availability of it — it's handy, it's there and it's discreet."

Bradley says another dispenser in Dawson City has also been well-used, with about 100 tests sold since last year.

The tools to make smart choices

The dispensers were installed as part of a two-year study, led by the University of Alaska Anchorage, on reducing rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). 

The idea is that a discreet vending machine might help women discover earlier when they are pregnant and, therefore, make informed choices about drinking or seeking support.

'We are looking for more partners as we proceed with this,' said Wenda Bradley, director of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society Yukon (FASSY). (Philippe Morin/CBC)

One dispenser in Whitehorse was installed at Yukon College, the other at the Dirty Northern Pub. The pregnancy tests cost $2 from the machines, compared to $17 to $30 from a drugstore. The Dawson machine sells them for $4.

Part of the research involves trying to determine whether the dispensers are more effective "messaging" than simple posters.

"If we don't give women or people the tools, then how can we expect them to follow what we're advising?" Bradley asked.

FASSY looking to install more

Now that it has numbers proving the dispensers are used, FASSY is hoping to install more around Yukon.

FASD is "a public health concern, it's a worldwide concern," Bradley said.  "If we're preventing that many people from having FASD, it's an astounding success for us."

The organization is looking for more partners to help fund the program, or agree to have a dispenser installed at their bar, restaurant, or other public facility.

But don't expect to see them just anywhere, Bradley says.

"We're not yet — I don't think — in our society or our community, willing to put them up just anywhere, but they have to be in a place that women can have discreet access to them."

With files from Philippe Morin