Fight against alcoholism in SADC region escalates

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

Concerned with how alcohol is taking a toll on people’s health and even being touted as the biggest contributor to road accidents in Southern Africa, a  regional organisation has upped the fight to curb alcoholism by pushing for the  region to adopt national alcohol policies in its  governments.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) held a  strategic meeting to enable Zimbabwean civil society organisations to  co-ordinate and push a national alcohol policy.

Speaking at the event SAAPA Zimbabwe chairman Chief Masimba Biriwasha acknowledged that there was the need to strengthen the co-ordination among civic organisations working with alcohol –related harm to influence alcohol policy in   the country since the scourge is prevalent.

“As SAAPA Zimbabwe we have a number of organisations that include Shamwari YeMwanasikana, Youths Against Alcoholism  and Drug Dependency (YADD),Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) and Junior Chamber International Zimbabwe (JCIZ) among others but we have not been able to meaningfully strategise and co-ordinate the  fight against alcoholism by pushing for a national alcohol policy despite the fact that  the country is grappling with the problem,” admitted Biriwasha.

According to SAAPA national coordinator and YADD director  Tungamirai Zimonte ,the country has a draft alcohol policy which he feels need to  be expanded and be expeditiously adopted.

Recently, a local newspaper reported that  a Form Three pupil at Founders High School in Bulawayo was found dead in a bush near Nketa High School presumably from murder. However, a post mortem report revealed that he died  due to excessive alcohol consumption.

Again in Bulawayo, Entumbane residents protested against police’s ‘unwillingness’ to nab an alleged popular drug peddler MaHadebe whom they accuse of selling drugs to their children.

In Mabvuku, there is a well-known illicit brewer whose brew is believed to be leading to an ailment likened to Kwashiorkor  among young adults .

Among some of SAAP’s recommendations to curb alcoholism is to increase the price and taxes on alcohol, decreasing the availability by reducing hours of sale and outlet density, increasing the minimum legal drinking age and improved health warnings on bottles just to mention but a few.

A bar owner in Zengeza’s Pagomba who only identified himself as Tendekai agrees  that there is the need for enforcing the minimum legal drinking age as most bars are now being frequented by school-going age children which morally is unacceptable but some bar owners disregard this for profits.

“It is a worrying trend that you see very young children coming to bar to imbibe but the bar attendant and the owners don’t give a hoot as long as they pocket the money.

“I think we should oblige to bar young kids who are not above 18 to drink and in my view that age should be increased to 21 like we see in some uptown bars,” he said.

Tapiwa Mandisodza an imbiber believes that the problem of alcoholism is because of the   falling economy and increasing the taxes on alcohol  are  not  a  panacea as most people would resort to illicit alcohol which have more damaging effects.

According to SAAPA’s regional chairman Phillip Chimponda believe there is the need for SADC to place alcoholism as an agenda as its effects have far much damaging consequences.

“The report by the WHO (World Health Organisation) that Southern Africa is among the most alcohol drinking regions leading to spike in HIV infections and road fatalities should be taken up seriously by SADC , it must be one of their agenda items during their forums,” reiterated Chimponda.

According to Chimponda,    only Zambia and Malawi have come up with national alcohol policies   with the former already   having set an implementation plan.

Global statistics show that  ‘the harmful use of alcohol results in approximately 2.5 million deaths each year, with a net loss of life of 2.25 million, taking into account the estimated beneficial impact of low levels of alcohol use on some diseases in some population groups’