A new report by the African Journal of Drug and Alcohol studies revealed that thousands of Batswana may be dying from slow poisoning because of unregulated hazardous home brewed alcohol.
The report, compiled by Dr Joseph Pitso from the University of Botswana, detailed horror stories of how hundreds suffer mental break-downs, blindness or die of liver failure after swigging the tainted liquor in Selibe-Phikwe.
The study warns that the situation could get worse following the recent amendment to the Trade and Liquor Act to reduce trading hours of bars and bottle stores, arguing that the new policy “is neither rooted in socio-cultural research insight nor informed by a nationally representative study; and thus likely to be flawed.”
The study revealed a thriving trade in home brewed alcohol, with the temptation for unscrupulous or ignorant brewers to make more money by adulterating their products, turning most of Botswana’s home brews into deadly cocktails. The report further states that anecdotal studies in Botswana reported that even though traditional beverages were initially designed to contain small amounts of alcohol, their increasing economic value has influenced the inclusion of solvents and sulphuric acid from motor vehicle batteries to enhance their capacity to intoxicate. Home brewed alcoholic beverages were made into more lethal brews with toxic substances such as battery acid, pool chemicals, tobacco and even old shoes.” It is reported that such toxic concoctions could leave the drinker blind or even dead, by causing severe liver damage.
“It was reported that excessive consumption creates numerous health problems. They reported horrendous stories of insanity (cognitive impairment and neuropsychiatric disorders) perpetual diarrhea leading to dehydration, infections due to addiction, loss of appetite, blindness and even death,” the study revealed.
The study tallies with other earlier studies which revealed that the problem is spread throughout the country. For example, data collected for the Botswana Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (BENDU) in 2003 from four treatment centers in Botswana, alcohol remains the most common primary substance of abuse reported by patients, accounting for 84% of the 72 patients. “Home brews are the most common type of alcohol used as they are easily available and affordable”, stated the report.
Another earlier report by J. Finlay and R.K. Jones revealed that “almost all deaths among persons over 25 in 1979 from cirrhosis of the liver were due to alcoholism”
The report further found that close to 20% of all patients treated at the Lobatse mental hospital were related to alcohol. Another report by the Global Status Report of Alcohol stated that “the fairly high prevalence of folate, thiamine and iron deficiency in the population of the Ghanzi and Ngamiland communities of western Botswana may be related in part to alcohol consumption.”
The findings “call for the Botswana Government to seriously consider a thorough examination of home brewed beverages produced in the country.
Limiting the operating hours of bars, bottle stores and night clubs would inevitably make such beverages a plausible substitute. The development of a clear cut and comprehensive alcohol policy that understands the intricacies and nuances of the ingredients and brewing styles of home brewed alcohol cannot be overemphasized” stated the report.