•Vice-chairman of the NCD-Alliance Kenya David Makumi said alcoholism is a national problem.
•The report shows alcohol is the most abused substance in Kenya, by 12.2 per cent of the population.
Western Kenya appears to be struggling with a bigger problem of alcoholism, despite the government’s focus on Central.
Data from the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), and other studies show Western, and Nyanza counties such as Kisii and Nyamira, are most affected.
However, these regions will not benefit from the government interventions announced on Saturday.
The difference is that while traditional brews are most prevalent in Western Kenya, in Central it is the portable spirits manufactured there and sold in pubs.
Nacada’s data come from a national study it commissioned between January and June 2021 in collaboration with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Government Chemist and the Ministry of Interior.
Nacada boss Victor Okioma presented the report to the National Assembly in March last year.
The report shows alcohol is the most abused substance in Kenya, by 12.2 per cent of the population.
It is followed by tobacco at 8.3 per cent and miraa at 4.1 per cent.
“The survey also showed that 10.4 per cent (2,807,569) of Kenyans aged 15 - 65 years have alcohol use disorders; 6.8 per cent (1,835.718) have tobacco use disorders,” says the report, titled the “14th edition of biannual report on the status of alcohol and drug abuse control in Kenya.”
Public health advocates said the government should also help other counties overcome alcoholism.
Vice-chairman of the NCD-Alliance Kenya David Makumi said alcoholism is a national problem.
“We laud the Deputy President for the efforts he’s making, but we want the efforts spread across the country. We need to look at alcoholism as not just a central Kenya problem because it makes us forget it’s a national issue across the 47 counties. By the time we come to western Kenya, the youths there will be zombies,” he said.
Makumi noted both the traditional brews and portable spirits are dangerous if abused.
“From a public health standpoint, the offending element is ethanol, if you get it in a bottle or a gourd, at the end of the day you're consuming the same thing. Highend beers and chang’aa have the same problem,” he said.
“Let not the beer industry tell us their products are safe. They could be more hygienic but not less harmful. The type of alcohol is immaterial, where it was made is immaterial.”
A past study in Kenya also noted high ethanol content in traditional brews, at 34 per cent for chang'aa and four per cent for busaa.
The Nacada report showed counties in western Kenya account for the highest alcohol seizures.
At least 1.7 million litres of illicit alcohol was seized nationally in the first six months of 2021.
Kisii accounted for the highest seizures (389,346 litres) followed by Nyamira (165,579 litres), Kericho (156.381 litres), Siaya (114.385 litres), Narok (102,913 litres), Elgeyo Marakwet (88,679 litres), Mombasa (84,207 litres), Nandi (77,787 litres), Migori (71,757 litres) and Uasin Gishu (66,842 litres).
In terms of individual alcohol types seized, Kericho accounted for the highest seizure of chang'aa traditional brew (19,224 litres), followed by Nakuru (7,181 litres), Kisii (6,720 litres), Mombasa (6,634 litres) and Nandi (6,021 litres).
Kisii accounted for the highest seizures of Kangara brew (363,759 litres) followed by Nyamira (146,780 litres), Siaya (106,343 litres), Kericho (85,800 litres) and Nandi (70,814 litres).
A total of 336,261 litres of all other brews were seized. Narok accounted for the highest number of seizures (95,735 litres) followed by Kericho (49,030 litres), Meru (38,082 litres), Elgeyo Marakwet (20,182 litres) and Kisii (18,767 litres).
In September last year, researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute also compared alcoholism in Isiolo, Kajiado, Murang'a and Nyamira, all purposively selected based on studies which indicated that drugs and substance abuse was a priority health concern in these counties.
“Among the counties, the highest prevalence was observed in Nyamira 89.8 per cent, followed by Isiolo 88.1 per cent, Murang’a 85.5 per cent and Kajiado 79.5 per cent,” says the study, published in the Plos One journal last September.
Makumi, who is also a goodwill ambassador of the National Cancer Institute, also took issue with the increased advertising of alcoholic drinks. “If you take a stretch from city mortuary to Dagoretti Corner you will get not less than 12 billboards of alcohol. That’s a stretch of less than 4 kilometres. Also when tobacco was kicked out of sponsorships of sports, it’s the alcohol industry that moved in.”
He advised the government to treat addicts as patients, not criminals. “It's not only a social problem only, it's a public health problem. Let's treat people addicted to alcohol as patients. Even if you arrest them they will go back to drinking when you release them.
“Remember Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) so the small print health warning on alcohol bottles is a mockery.”
The NCD-Alliance Kenya also called for increased taxation of alcoholic drinks.
Nacada chairman Dr Stephen Mairoiri said surveillance should also include the recycling of alcohol bottles which are used to package killer brews sold.
“A multiagency team should undertake regular, intelligence-driven surveillance and enforcement to ensure compliance to Alcoholic Drinks Control Act law and enhance elimination of illicit brews and counterfeit alcohol products, and controlled recycling of alcohol branded bottles,” he said.