Alcohol impacts people and societies in different ways and is determined by the volume consumed, the pattern of drinking, and, on rare occasions, the quality of alcohol consumed. Alcohol is a psychoactive substance and its harmful use is known to have dependence-producing properties and cause more than 200 diseases among drinkers as well as devastating effects to innocent victims such as unborn children.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, preterm birth, still birth, spontaneous abortion, and contribute to a range of disabilities known as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD is an umbrella term referring to an array of conditions involving impairments of the growth and development of the central nervous system caused by alcohol intake during pregnancy.

At the most severe end of this spectrum is foetal alcohol syndrome, a leading preventable cause of mental impairment in many countries. This is part of the evidence supporting mandatory health warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers, including information for all pregnant women on the impact of alcohol on the foetus or unborn baby. FAS-related impairment is severe, permanent and associated with substantial health care costs. There is no cure for FAS and treatment is focused on managing learning difficulties, behavioural problems, language, delayed social or motor skills, impaired memory and attention deficits.

In order to support countries address the harmful use of alcohol in the African region, the World Health Organisation has produced a strategy aimed at contributing to the prevention and reduction of harmful use of alcohol in the African region. Implementation of this strategy will provide a clear understanding of the adverse health effects of alcohol and allow it to be placed high in national health, social and development agendas.

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