Kampala- A countrywide survey conducted by Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance (UAPA), a network of non-government organisations and people working in public health agencies, indicates that 61 per cent of the population that consumes alcohol started drinking before the age of 18 years.
The November 2018 survey indicates that underage drinkers are triggered by the desire to experiment, peer pressure and stress.
Dr David Kalema, the chairperson of UAPA, said: “Drinking is just increasing. Statistics have shown alcohol disorders are going up… you have to be worried. We are so much worried about young people. 61 per cent start drinking alcohol before 18 years.
“But what is worrying is when you have children below 14 years drinking because 31 per cent started drinking alcohol before they clocked 14 years, that is when you are in Senior Three, Two, One.”
The current population of Uganda is 44.5 million, based on United Nations estimates. This means more than 27 million people are at risk of suffering alcohol-related consequences.
According to the Ministry of Health, alcohol dependency is among the main causes of psychiatric morbidity in Uganda.
Dr Ekwaro Obuku, the president of Uganda Medical Association, said alcoholism can endanger someone’s health both physically and mentally.
“It (drinking alcohol) can damage the liver, exposure to all various types of cancer, and you can also damage your kidney, among others. Addiction comes with irresponsibility,” Dr Obuku said. Dr Obuku said such habits could expose Ugandans to mental illness.
Last year, Butabika, a national mental referral hospital, revealed that whereas the hospital is supposed to manage 550 patients at a go, they were accommodating 907 patients.
Dr Ivan Kimuli, a physician and clinical research fellow from Lung Institute, yesterday said research states that young people who begin drinking before 15 years are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking after 21. “Alcohol when young can damage the health and the wellbeing of young people yet teenage years are an important time for brain development, therefore, affecting brain areas dealing with motivation, reasoning, among others,” he said.
Ban. To curb underage alcoholism, this year, the Minister of Trade, Ms Amelia Kyambadde, issued a directive to alcohol manufacturing companies to stop the packaging and sale of alcohol in sachets, which was triggered by a Cabinet directive issued in 2017.
Yesterday, Ms Kyambadde launched a multi sectoral coordination taskforce to enforce the ban. “Evidence available indicates Uganda is one of the top African countries with the high consumption rate of alcohol…,” Ms Kyambadde said.
Taskforce. Members of the taskforce include Dr Gerald Mutungi from the Ministry of Health, Mr Ashraf Seiko Chemonges from Uganda Police office, Mr Francis Gimoro from Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, among others.
The taskforce shall report to the Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives and the Minister of Health through their respective permanent secretaries.