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Booze in the dock as more indulge in binge drinking

MENTAL and substance abuse experts are worried about the future of the nation with findings from a recent study indicating that a single episode of binge drinking can adversely affect one's health.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the ‘Sunday News,’ a Ministry of Health and Social Welfare Head of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Dr Norman Sabuni, said currently 21 per cent of men were drinkers, 40.6 per cent of whom were heavy episodic drinkers (HED) and 7.4 per cent of women were drinkers while 23.3 per cent of them were HEDs.

"Binge drinking leads to various diseases such as cancers and alcohol use disorders. HED also substantially contributes to road traffic accidents," he explained.

According to the Centres for Diseases Control, binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grammes per cent or above.

This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours. The study, which appeared on a Science Daily website that was conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the US, said a single episode of binge drinking could have significant negative health effects resulting in bacteria leaking from the gut, leading to increased levels of endotoxins in the blood, clinical scientists have found.

It said greater gut permeability and increased endotoxin levels have been linked to many health issues related to chronic drinking, including alcoholic liver disease, such as liver cirrhosis.

Dr Sabuni, who attended the launch of 'The Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014' in Geneva, Switzerland, said Tanzania was one of the countries in Africa with high prevalence of alcohol consumption, with an alcohol per capita (for those aged 15 years and above) of 7.7 litres while Africa's is 6 litres.

"Alcohol consumption causes detrimental health and social economical consequences for the drinker, people around the drinker and the society at large, as well as patterns of drinking that are associated with increased risk of adverse health outcomes.

"A positive trend is expected to emerge as the society's ability and willingness to tackle NCDs and their risk factors, including the harmful use of alcohol and this is a precondition for an outcome and indicator of all dimensions of sustainable development - economic development, environmental sustainability and social inclusion," he said.

A researcher and consultant in economics and business at Mzumbe University - Dar es Salaam Business School, Dr Honest Ngowi, told this paper that be believed the increasing trends for alcohol consumption could be attributed to how easy it was now to get money.

Dr Ngowi said with the emergence of mobile banking and mobile money, unlike in old days when one would physically need to walk to a bank, now it was only a couple of clicks away on one's phone to be liquid.

"Apart from the liquidity aspect, nowadays drinking joints are literally outside our doorsteps and in nearly all corners of our neighbourhoods. The ever-swelling traffic jams are also not helping matters as they are a source of many mushrooming drinking places in Dar es Salaam," he said.

Tanzania, like many countries in the world, is facing a variety of alcohol-related challenges which have devastating impacts on individuals, their families and communities. Harmful use of alcohol is one of the four most common modifiable and preventable risk factors for major NCDs.

There is also emerging evidence that the harmful use of alcohol contributes to the health burden caused by communicable diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS.

Dr Sabuni said that harmful use of alcohol was a cross-cutting issue in Tanzania. He said there were various policies that address alcohol control in different sectors and recently a National Alcohol Policy Guideline draft was developed, adding that the existing laws needed to be amended or redrafted.

He said, for instance, that the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1978, Tanzania Regulatory Authority Act 2003, Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority Act 2003 and Road Traffic Act 1978 were formulated with a view to addressing harmful use of alcohol in areas such as availability of alcohol, licensing systems for alcohol distribution, hours and days that alcohol can be sold and drink-driving.

"Implementation of these laws is still ongoing but with limited success. For example, alcohol-related injuries in road traffic accidents are still increasing, use of cereals in alcohol production in rural areas contribute to malnutrition and poverty in some communities," he explained.

The expert said that international collaboration between alcohol researchers from the rich North and those from the poor South should be promoted.

This will ensure regular scientific data on alcohol issues in different communities. The data collected will influence both regional and global alcohol policies resulting in health care systems that may improve their capacity to deal with alcohol-related problems.

With the country currently drafting its first Alcohol Policy Guideline, reviewing the existing policies in terms of implementation and best practices, the experts are holding their breaths.