Alcohol's impact on babies - UN looks at Australian experience

11 May 2012

'Tristan' tells the story of a 12-year old boy from the Fitzroy Valley born with the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
'Tristan' tells the story of a 12-year old boy from the Fitzroy Valley born with the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

An Australian film depicting the life of a young boy exposed to alcohol during his mother's pregnancy was shown at the United Nations headquarters in New York yesterday.

The documentary was produced as part of a major program on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), involving the University of Sydney and its partners.

It will form part of a presentation at the UN in the 11th Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Australian research on the disorder.

"This important UN session will discuss how local Indigenous women in the Fitzroy Valley in remote Western Australia came together to create the Lililwan Project," said Elizabeth Elliott, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University's Sydney Medical School and Chief Investigator of the Lililwan Project.

"This project is leading the way for Australia in confronting the challenges of a condition seen in both non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians.

"It aims to determine the number of children affected by FASD and to address both its diagnosis and prevention."

Indigenous leaders in the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberley initiated the successful research partnership between Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services and Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre. They invited the Sydney Medical School and its affiliate, The George Institute to support the research arm of the project.

"FASD can have detrimental effects on the developing child, resulting in birth defects, learning and behavioural problems," said Professor Elliott.

"The film Tristan brings this to life, by telling the story of a 12-year old boy from the Fitzroy Valley born with the disorder. It follows Tristan's struggles with communication and attention problems."

The documentary, produced by the University's Associate Professor Jane Latimer and directed by Melanie Hogan, also highlights the efforts by members of the Fitzroy Valley community to deal with the disease.

"The Lililwan Project is about taking control to limit the damage caused by this tragic disease," said Professor Latimer.

The United Nations session will include presentations by an Aboriginal leader from the project June Oscar, Tristan's carer Marmingee Hand, Australia's Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, Professor Latimer and Professor Elliott.

It will highlight the rights of mothers and their children, the responsibilities of government and civil society to protect the most vulnerable, and the importance of a national debate about Australia's use of alcohol.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is a co-sponsor of the United Nations event. The film and a presentation of the Lililwan project will also be shown at the Australian High Commission in New York this week.

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