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WHO plan to rein in drinking

Sunday October 18 2009

The World Health Organisation is drafting a strategy that calls for higher taxation of beer, fewer drinking hours and fewer outlets.

The World Health Organisation is drafting a strategy that calls for higher taxation of beer, fewer drinking hours and fewer outlets. Photo/FILE 

By GATONYE GATHURA

The Kenyan Government might soon be asked to put in place measures to reduce access to alcohol. In a global effort to reduce the availability and consumption of alcohol, the World Health Organisation is drafting a strategy that calls for higher taxation of beer, fewer drinking hours and fewer outlets.

The draft is expected to be ready by January and Kenya and other countries will be asked to ratify the final version of the document at the World Health Assembly in May.

In a campaign strategy that could go the tobacco way, the global organisation urges nations to consider various ways of reducing access to alcohol, including governments monopolising retail outlets, regulating sales to patrons who are already drunk and selecting non-drinking days.

An advance copy of the strategy also asks countries to try a system that does not allow patrons to drink on credit to curb over-consumption. Justifying the campaign, which is bound to face resistance from major brewers, WHO cites the heavy burden alcohol puts on national health systems.

The health organisation classifies alcohol as the fifth leading cause of premature death and disability worldwide. To garner wider support, the document introduces the term ‘passive-drinking’, arguing that a drinker affects others, including non-drinkers.

These could be road users who find themselves in accidents caused by drunken drivers, victims of domestic violence and children born with deformities. According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2003, almost a third of domestic violence cases in the country are alcohol-related.

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It is estimated that as much as five per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product is swallowed up by road accidents. The Traffic Department says 85 per cent of these accidents result from human error, mostly induced by drunken driving.

The WHO draft may find support among a wide cross section of Kenyans, including administrators. Closing several bars in Thika at the weekend, the area administrators said there were more alcohol outlets than schools and health institutions in the region.