An Alaska state-sponsored pilot program is placing free pregnancy tests in selected bars' bathrooms in an effort to decrease the total number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

A dispenser promoting free pregnancy tests hangs on the wall exclusively in the ladies room at the Peanut Farm bar in Anchorage.

The front of the device sports an advertisement displaying a silhouette of pregnant lady consuming liquor from a bottle. The main title of the dispenser states: "Remember the last time you had sex?"

The Alaskan health officials say that approximately more than 120 babies born in Alaska every year have FAS symptoms, including physical and mental defects, growth deficiency and damages to organs. The state also has a high rate of females who do binge drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The University of Alaska Anchorage is piloting the current two-year study that will run until June 2016. Lead researcher David Driscoll, University's Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies director, states the study aims to check whether pregnancy test dispensers in bar bathrooms with the warning advertisements can be more efficient at preventing FAS than just posters by themselves.

As of the moment, the pregnancy test dispensers are in four bars statewide, but the director is planning to increase the number of bars. Driscoll says women who have used the dispensers are now replying to online surveys that could assist on the study.

The lifetime education, social and medical costs of FAS is assessed to be as high as US$800,000 per baby born with the condition. So, advocates believe the $400,000 project could have great potential.

"A lot of women now understand that they shouldn't drink [while pregnant]," states Deb Evensen, an instructor in Alaska who has been working on FAS prevention for at least 30 years. She added that most women are still drinking during early pregnancy because they are not aware that they are pregnant which causes damage to their babies and hopefully devices like these could help in preventing these instances.

Peanut Farm bar's general manager Travis Block confirms he was cautious about placing the pregnancy test dispenser in the ladies room initially. But after learning about the frequency of FAS in the state, and the possible economic savings from preventing the illness, he's now a supporter.

Block says perhaps the dispenser along with the poster will create more awareness among women about the volume of the liquor they drink and the possible consequences of drinking while pregnant.

Photo: Janine | Flickr

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