Group works to raise awareness of fetal alcohol syndrome in Yukon
Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, June 30, 2016 4:17AM EDT
It's not unusual to see dispensers for tampons or sanitary napkins in women's washrooms, but at a college and a bar in Whitehorse, women can also buy pregnancy tests.
In an attempt to reduce the number of women who drink while pregnant, the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon installed three pregnancy test dispensers - two at Yukon College and one at the pub Dirty Northern Public House - in Whitehorse last year.
"What we wanted to do is change the culture around pregnancy and drinking," said Wenda Bradley, the society's executive director.
It's become normal to see young women binge drinking on a night out, but it can have severe consequences for an unborn child if the mother isn't aware she is pregnant yet, Bradley said.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder includes a range of physical and intellectual disabilities that cannot be cured, but are preventable.
While there is no concrete national statistic on the rate of the disorder, a 2015 report by the Canadian Medical Association Journal said an estimated one in 100 people live with the condition.
Bradley said binge drinking can have the most dangerous effects on a fetus.
In the North, the cost of a pregnancy test at a drugstore can range from $18 to $20. The dispensers are far more affordable at only $2 for a test, Bradley said.
"If they're being told they shouldn't be drinking during pregnancy, then they also need to be able to know if they are or are not pregnant."
Over 190 tests have been sold between the three dispensers since they were installed in April 2015.
A similar dispenser installed at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City last year has also had about 100 purchases, a significant number considering the town's population of 2,000 people, said Angela Van Nostrand, programming co-ordinator for Healthy Families Healthy Babies.
"Early detection of a pregnancy will certainly allow women to make informed choices on how they are going to take care of themselves."
The effectiveness of the dispensers is not simply tied to the number of pregnancy tests purchased.
The University of Alaska Anchorage, which is collecting surveys from Whitehorse and other cities, is studying the influence posters have when attached to these pregnancy test dispensers.
In the United States, all establishments serving alcohol are required to have posters or flyers informing the public of the risks of drinking while pregnant, yet very few people are knowledgeable about those risks, said David Driscoll, who is leading the two-year study.
"Very few people have seen these flyers. They've become so ubiquitous that people don't notice them," he said.
The posters on pregnancy test dispensers are unexpected and unfamiliar sights to most women. Driscoll said they would more likely grab attention than a traditional poster behind a bar.
Although prevalence rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the U.S. have been found to be low at about one to three cases per 1,000 births, Driscoll said it's worth finding more effective ways to bring those numbers down.
"If you have a (fetal alcohol syndrome) child, that is extraordinarily challenging and not to mention expensive health outcome," he said. "The cost associated with placing a pregnancy test dispenser at a bar pale in comparison."