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Tanzania mulls action on alcohol misuse

Young, jobless Tanzanians are increasingly drowning their frustrations in cheap fake liquor. With alcohol abuse a growing public health issue, the government has promised tighter regulation. It has yet to materialize.

Herman Heri - that is not his real name - will quietly celebrate his first year of abstinence in February after an uphill struggle with alcohol abuse.

"I could not have managed without the help of my wife and my doctors, I feel relieved from a very heavy burden," he told DW.

The 36-year-old former taxi driver and father of two, who receives psychological counseling at an Alcoholics Anonymous center on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, had been drinking heavily since he was a teenager.

“I was drinking day and night; I could hardly sleep without having a sip. It was a bad habit which ruined my health, my life and made me a nuisance to the society,” he said.

Heri started experiencing health problems two years ago, when he developed severe abdominal pains and swollen feet. Doctors at Muhimbili National Hospital diagnosed a kidney complaint caused by alcohol poisoning.

"The first thing my doctor told me was to quit drinking; it wasn't easy, but I had no other choice than to heed his advice," he said.

With the help of psychologists and counselors, his condition improved remarkably and he has since quit drinking altogether.

"I had to let it go because it ruined my health, I am now living happily with my family," he said.

Alcohol abuse is increasingly becoming a major public health concern in Tanzania. Young people are taking to binge drinking, posing a threat to their health, family life and productivity at the workplace.

Damage to health

According to a survey conducted by Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in 2013, an estimated 3.6 million Tanzanian men and 1.7 million women drink excessively.

That is more than 10 percent of the county's population of some 45 million.

But the government tends to view alcohol consumption as an individual lifestyle choice.

Tansania Alkoholmissbrauch

A bus driver in Dar es Salaam submits to a breathalyzer test

"As a government, there is little we can do on this matter, consumers should understand the risk of drinking too much alcohol and decide what to do on their own," said Seif Rashid, Tanzania's health minister told parliament recently.

Medical experts warn that misuse of alcohol makes people more susceptible to non-communicable diseases such kidney complaints, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Ali Mzige, a public health consultant at Muhimbili, says the government must act to protect people, especially the young.

"There's no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol. The government must work hard to review its alcohol policy to spare the young generation," said

Research conducted by the Muhimbili's Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health in 2013 suggests that almost 50 percent of recorded cases of mental illness in Tanzania are linked to alcohol and drug abuse.

"We are seeing an increase in substance and alcohol misuse, abuse and dependency among young people, public awareness is critical to address this problem," said Dr Praxeda Swai, a mental health specialist at Muhimbili National Hospital.

She said loneliness, depression, family breakdown or unemployment are the main reasons why people drink too much.

Counterfeit spirits

Even though alcohol abuse is a serious threat to public health, Tanzania lacks an effective strategy to tackle the problem. Manufacturers of alcoholic beverages take advantage of government inaction by launching aggressive marketing campaigns to promote their products which can cause harm.

Tansania Alkoholmissbrauch

Illegally produced alcohol, which has been confiscated by the authorities, is collected for disposal

Bertha Maega, an expert from Tanzania Public Health Association said most young people drink cheap, affordable alcohol takeaways which can be consumed discreetly.

"Most of these brands are sub-standard and are illegally produced, the government should impose a ban on them for the sake of the consumers' health," she said.

The government has said it was planning to draw up guidelines on alcohol consumption as part of a new policy.

Donald Mbando, a senior health ministry official, told DW that the government was consulting with stakeholders, such as the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages, to seek their opinions before presenting a bill to parliament later in the year.

“We have developed a draft of the national alcohol policy in Tanzania which aims to control and limit the harmful use of alcohol," Mbando said.

He said the government was committed to strengthening measures to protect the general population. This would include raising taxes on alcohol, tight controls on under-age drinking and regulating the drinks market.

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