Objective: To establish the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the Top End of the Northern Territory (NT), Australia, in both the indigenous and non-indigenous populations. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a preventable disease that is a major cause of intellectual handicap worldwide. The prevalence of FAS in the NT, and in Australia as a whole, is unknown.
Methodology: Cases were identified through retrospective review of medical records and outpatient letters of children seen by Royal Darwin Hospital paediatric staff. Cases were also identified by tracing potentially affected siblings, or incidentally during clinical work. All children were born between 1990 and 2000, and lived in the Top End of the NT.
Results: Seventeen children were identified with definite FAS. Twenty-six children with partial FAS or alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) were also identified. The prevalence of FAS in the Top End of the NT was calculated to be 0.68 per 1000 live births. The prevalence might be as high as 1.7 per 1000 live births, if cases identified as partial FAS or ARND because of insufficient records, were assumed to have full FAS. In indigenous children, the corresponding prevalence was calculated to be between 1.87 and 4.7 per 1000 live births. The difference between indigenous and non-indigenous rates of FAS was significant (P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: The prevalence of FAS in indigenous children of the Top End of the NT is comparable to the high rates in indigenous populations worldwide.