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Pregnant alcoholics may face mandatory rehabilitation

As the Number of Finnish children living in families with alcohol abuse issues has grown in recent years, so too has the number of pregnant Finnish women harming their unborn children through excessive use of alcohol. According to recent estimates, around six per cent of pregnant Finns drink heavily during pregnancy, meaning that over 3,000 foetuses are exposed to alcohol every year. In the same period, some 600 babies displaying symptoms of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) are born in Finland.

A Ministry of Social Affairs and Health working group has suggested that treatment of alcoholic mothers be improved by making post-natal care automatic and immediate, and by giving doctors the right to place such mothers under care for the entire duration of their pregnancy, whether they are willing or not.

One problem the group grappled with was how to improve recognition of problem cases at an early stage. Often, alcohol issues go unrecognised by both maternity clinics and mothers themselves. The group proposed that all pregnant women be asked as early as possible about their consumption of alcohol, and that the father also participate in these sessions.

Research Director Tuovi Hakuli-
nen-Viitanen from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reports that 75 per cent of mothers who visit maternity clinics are surveyed on their alcohol habits, while around half of those visiting child welfare clinics receive the survey.

“We really ought to be discussing alcohol use with all mums and dads from the first time they visit the maternity clinic.”

THL Planning Officer Elina Kotovirta feels that the absence of a systematic chain of care which would also cover the post-natal period is a major issue.

“We have the resources and the expertise, but we’re just not targeting all those who need it, when they need it, as efficiently as we could be,” she argues.

This leaves many alcoholic mothers struggling to secure a place in care, and those who find one often face a further battle securing municipal funding for the service. The latter is something the working group suggests should be remedied.

“The bureaucracy and struggle involved in getting municipalities to cover the bill for maternal care should be left to someone other than the mother. The last thing she needs is to have to run from one office to another filling out a series of forms,” says Kotovirta.

The ministerial working group has also proposed that the most problematic cases be concentrated in one, specialised facility. Should these patients be unwilling, the group’s members argue, doctors should be given the right to direct mothers to care against their will. In some cases this is already what happens, but should these recommendations be acted on this option would be more readily available to doctors.

source: Helsinki Times

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