Brewing trouble

Brewing trouble

MASERU – WHEN Charles Noka*, 41, tested HIV positive four years ago, his wife left him to seek a job in Gauteng.

Every day Noka would resort to the bottle to “drown his sorrows” and kick away his depression.

“I started drinking after finding out that I am HIV positive and my wife left me with a son and went to Gauteng,” Noka says.

“I was so depressed to the point that I thought I deserved to die.”  “It took me a while before I accepted my (HIV positive) status. My life now revolves around beer. I cannot go a day without drinking because I believe it releases stress.”  Noka, a self-employed gardener, says the little he earns is shared between his beer and the needs of his son.

He does not have a house of his own and therefore lives at his parents’ house with his siblings. Thankfully, he does not have to worry about paying rent.
And thanks to the government’s free primary school education policy, Noka’s son does not have to pay any fees.

When thepost visited him at his Moshoeshoe II house in Maseru, he was, predictably, having some beer at a bar just about 400 metres away.

“Although I drink too much, I never lose control of myself because of alcohol and most importantly I do not allow alcohol to ruin my relationships with people around me,” he says.
Noka is just one of the many individuals in Lesotho who are victims of alcohol abuse.
He could yet benefit from an ambitious government project that wants to curtail the abuse of alcohol.

The alcohol policy was drafted after the government realised some Basotho were having serious challenges in regulating their drinking habits.

The policy seeks to reduce alcohol consumption, especially among the youths. It wants to slash the drinking levels to zero among adolescents.

Lesotho last conducted a comprehensive survey on alcohol drinking patterns in 1989.
Although a bit outdated, the results are telling though.

The survey reveals that 65 percent of drinkers reported drinking traditional home-brewed beer exclusively while 15 percent reported drinking Western-type beer exclusively and 20 percent drink both Western-type and traditional beer.

According to data collected for the Lesotho Epidemiology Network on Drug Abuse (LENDU) in 2003 from two rehabilitation centres, one psychiatric clinic, four Mental Observation and Treatment Units, and the police, alcohol was the dominant substance of abuse for patients seen at treatment facilities.

Overall, 70 percent of the 67 patients treated for substance abuse had alcohol as their primary substance of abuse during the period from January to June 2003.
78 percent of the patients who were treated for alcohol abuse were male, and about one third of the patients were 30 years of age or younger.

Drinking for entertainment is the most common reason for taking the bottle, compared to drinking to release stress and drinking because of peer pressure.

The 2016 Lesotho Youth Employment Survey shows that 19.7 percent of the country’s youths aged below 30 years are consistent alcohol drinkers.

28.1 percent of the youths are in urban areas while 13.3 percent come from rural areas.
The Lesotho alcohol policy has been going through some revisions since 2007 with allegations industry had exerted undue influence on the drafting of the policy.
The policy was never implemented after it failed to comply with recommendations put forward by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Ministry of Health is working with relevant civil society organisations on the final draft of the revised National Alcohol Policy.
This draft, however, is yet to be presented to Parliament.

Add-resources.org says it is critical that the process of enacting this policy draft into law is not delayed because alcohol is a severe health risk factor.

“Alcohol is having a very negative impact in Lesotho,” says the blog. “For disability adjusted life years alcohol use represents the single highest risk factor to men in Lesotho! When looking at both women and men together, alcohol remains the third highest risk factor,” it reads.

“This needs to be effectively addressed and changed.”
Civil society organisations, especially Blue Cross and the Anti-Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Lesotho (ADAAL), have over the past decade worked hard to prevent and mitigate the harmful effects of alcohol in the country.

Blue Cross Lesotho, for example, has been running the Thaba-Bosiu Prevention and Treatment Centre for Alcohol and Drugs for over 20 years.

A community educator with Blue Cross, ’Masebueng Majara, expressed concern over what she says is an “inappropriate handling” of alcohol issues in Lesotho. This is having serious consequences for the country, she says.

Majara says many young people are starting to drink when they are aged between 12 and 13 even though the age restriction stands at 18.

“Research has shown that full development of the brain is acquired at the age of 25 and research has shown that too much drinking of alcohol affects mental capacity.
“If someone starts drinking at such a tender age, by the time they turn 25, three quarters of their brain would already have been damaged,” Majara says.

Under the proposed policy, the government wants to bump up the age restriction to buy alcohol from the current 18 to 21 years. The policy also wants bars to be half a kilometre away from public places such as schools, churches, health centres, taxi ranks and sporting facilities.

It also seeks to limit alcohol advertisements in the mainstream media and have such adverts accompanied by those promoting soberness.

The policy also wants to tighten the trading hours for outlets selling alcohol.
The alcohol policy appears to run counter to the commercial aspirations of Lesotho’s largest brewer, the Maluti Mountain Brewery (MMB).

The Maluti Mountain Brewery says it was not consulted on the draft policy and was therefore not aware of its revision.

MMB’s corporate affairs director, Nthati Moorosi, says advertisements of alcohol beverages already carry health warnings.

The adverts also discourage youths who are below the age of 18 from drinking.
She says MMB has conducted aggressive campaigns to discourage drinking and driving. The brewery company also warn expectant mothers that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

“The alcohol ingredients and content are shown on each bottle and we always have taglines or bold messages written on our delivery trucks that say: Remember, it’s your responsibility to drink responsibly,’’ Moorosi says. The draft policy also seeks to increase tax on beer products.

But Moorosi says hiking tax is not the best solution under the circumstances.
“Increasing tax will not solve the problem but (would rather worsen it). Such a move by the government will force people to drink hazardous alcohol which is sold and brewed illegally. The government will lose the tax it needs,” Moorosi says.

“We produce alcohol for enjoyment and entertainment, not for people to do harmful things either to themselves or people around them and make wrong decisions and at the end of the day blame it on alcohol,” she says.

“Yes, we are selling alcohol but we are still advocating responsible drinking. Our mission is to preserve people’s lives and not destroy such lives.”

The manager of Antanio Public Bar, Pedro Goncalves, says he trades between 7am and 7.30 pm. He says operating between 12 noon and 11pm during weekdays as suggested in the draft policy “is not safe for my employees to travel home as there is too much crime going on”.
“I have ladies working here, so for their own safety, they have to knock off earlier,” Goncalves says.

“It’s very fortunate that I do not hire people under the age of 21 because I find them to be irresponsible, unreliable and not trustworthy,” he says.
“I do not sell alcohol to under-age people. I demand their IDs if I suspect they are under-age.”

*Charles Noka not his real name
By ’Mapule Motsopa

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