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How to kill a nation with pleasure, softly

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It is 7am and 29-year old Mavuto is dancing to the popular Zambian ‘Nilibe pulobulemu’ (I have no problem) song. He is already drunk.

He is ever in partying mood and it is hard to differentiate his mood from that of Christmas, New Year, wedding, birthday or other festivities.

Mavuto believes drinking from a joint near his house is fun and cheaper.

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This place is ever open, there are always people (mostly middle-aged men) drinking. This happens as the beer joint’s sound system plays trending music loudly irrespective of what time it is.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says alcohol is a psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties that has been widely used in many cultures for centuries.

It says the harmful use of alcohol causes disease, social and economic burden in societies.

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Mavuto uses most of his earnings in satisfying his endless alcohol cravings.

“I drink using the money I earn; so whom I’m I offending?” questions Mavuto, who looks older than his age. His face has noticeable scars and scratches.

He agreed to have a chat on his drinking habits on condition that he is provided with a 500-millilitre bottle of beer sold at K200.

Mavuto’s behaviour confirms how some people value alcohol so much. It appears alcohol trade is a profitable and fast cash business.

Be it formal or informal type of alcohol selling, one makes a fortune out of it regardless of what day of the month it is.

The Daily Times has however observed that there is lack of order in the way alcohol is sold in the country.

Even though beer is widely advertised to be sold to persons over 18 years old, underage people have been spotted accessing it.

“We are not sure whether it is theirs or some older person sends them. Basically our interest is to make money not restrict underage persons from buying or consuming beer,” said a Mbayani bottle stole owner.

The location of the beer joints too does not seem to matter. Some are located near schools, health facilities and homes among other inconvenient places.

As for local brews, they are sold right in homes where people open and close the drinking joint at any time.

Blantyre and Lilongwe city councils acknowledge that there are illegal liquor traders situated in residential areas that are inviting lots of mischief and disorder including selling beer to under age children.

Blantyre City Council (BCC) gives out an average of 250 licences per year. The charges range from K65, 000 to K250, 000 per year depending on size of business.

BCC Public Relations Manager (PRM), Anthony Kasunda, says liquor joints like the one Mavuto patronises are operating illegally.

“These illegal businesses are mostly operating in Bangwe, Manase and Zingwangwa townships. We have mounted a serious inspection and have closed a number of them over the past two weeks,” he claims.

Kasunda observes that some legal operators do not adhere to license conditions such as operating time and playing of loud music.

He adds: “We also have difficulties to enforce age limit because of lack of National Identity Cards; it is difficult in some circumstances to identify minors.”

Public Relations Manager for Lilongwe City Council, Tamara Chafunya says the council issued 86 liquor licenses in 2015.

She says due to growth and high demand in the business within the city, the council works on a tight schedule but limited number of personnel and resources required to enhance the inspections.

“Suffice to say that the council continues to issue notices to those liquor-selling premises that are operating without following the recommended standards and further to that the premises risk closure if the operators don’t comply,” Chafunya says.

There is also health risk to consuming beer the way Mavuto does.

Studies have shown that key patterns of interaction between alcohol use and sexual behaviour pose greater risks of acquiring diseases such as HIV.

In addition, Mavuto is also prone to malnutrition, becoming violent and likely to be divorced.

Director of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) at Ministry of Health, Beatrice Mwagomba, says NCDs such as hypertension and diabetes rates whose risk factors include harmful use of alcohol are high.

She says a general population survey of 2009 showed that diabetes was prevalent in 5.6 per cent of adults who consumed alcohol.

“About 33 percent of 25-64 year old adults who consumed alcohol were hypertensive. So if you look at these figures they are very high,” she says

Mwagomba reveals that government is losing lots of money in managing these ailments which could be avoided if harmful consumption of alcohol was avoided.

“As of now we can’t quantify how much but mind you if the trend continues to be like this, come 2025 these diseases that are associated with alcohol consumption will overtake infectious diseases such malaria, TB.

“As a result more resources will be needed to control and manage the conditions and problems. Therefore, it is better to control them now before they get out of hand,” she cautions.

Malawi has never had an alcohol policy which is supposed to offer a comprehensive package in terms of developing, implementing, coordinating, monitoring and evaluating health, social and economic interventions related to harmful alcohol consumption.

The policy is also supposed to increase awareness of the negative effects of alcohol and curb its harmful consumption including underage drinking in the country. However, in the absence of the policy all these are not happening.

Director for Drug Fight Malawi, Nelson Zakeyu, says even though his organisation in collaboration with other interested stakeholders have been working to have this policy, the endorsement is stalling.

“I understand the draft policy was taken to cabinet in July 2015 but it is just waiting for presidential approval. This means the many problems that are coming in due to lack of control and order are still there,” he notes.

College of Medicine’s Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Adamson Muula says:

“Even without a policy, we can still go ahead and sanction that no one drinks and drive. That young people under 18 years shouldn’t be sold or served alcohol and that city, district councils should enforce by-laws as where alcohol is sold and when. This could be done now.”

He however notes that there is a huge commercial interest in alcohol.

This commercial interest is certainly so huge that no one cares how alcohol is decimating the nation, softly.

Facts about alcohol

 In 2011 alcohol was linked to 25 per cent of murder cases, 40 per cent of suicides, 27 per cent of road traffic accidents, 7 per cent of sexual violence and 38 per cent of physical assault cases.

 NCDs such as hypertension and diabetes rates whose risk factors include harmful use of alcohol are high

 A general population survey of 2009 showed that diabetes was prevalent in 5.6 per cent of adults who consumed alcohol

 About 33 per cent of 25-64 year old adults who consumed alcohol were hypertensive

 Total yearly consumption in 100 per cent pure alcohol among those who drunk is 8.1 liters among men and 1.5 liters among women

 Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol

 The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions.

 Overall 5.1 percent of the global burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol, as measured in disability- adjusted life years (DALYs)

 Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life

 In the age group 20 – 39 years approximately 25 per cent of the total deaths are alcohol-attributable

 There is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders

 The latest causal relationships have been established between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.

 Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.

Sources: Malawi Police Service, WHO, MoH, SINTEF

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