Uganda leads East Africa in alcohol consumption

What you need to know:

At least 89 per cent of the alcohol consumed in Uganda is unregulated, home brewed and illegally sold, according to the report.

Kampala- Uganda is the highest consumer of alcohol per capita in the East African region, according to a newly released report.

More worrying, Ugandans according to the report, consume the unregulated type of alcohol classified as “others”. The regulated market bears alcohol types namely beer, spirits and wine.

The Global Status on Alcohol and Health 2014 indicates that 23.7 litres of pure alcohol are consumed per capita by drinkers annually in Uganda. Rwanda and Burundi follow, each registering 22.0 litres per capita per year.

Kenyans follow with a registered 18.9 litres of alcohol consumed per capita while Tanzania consumes only 18.4 litres per capita.

The report that looks at alcohol consumption by people aged 15 and above, carries research findings of 2010 and 2012 and it includes profiles of each country across all continents.

While the overall picture paints Uganda as a leading alcohol consumer in the region, details tell another story.

At least 89 per cent of the alcohol consumed in Uganda is unregulated, home brewed and illegally sold, according to the report.

Beer consumption is still at a paltry nine per cent while spirits and wine consumers make up a tiny margin of the total alcohol consumed within the country.

The bulk of alcohol consumed in Uganda is local brew which explains why the alcohol manufactures may find it hard to agree with the research findings.

Health risks
Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, the principal medical officer in charge of mental health and control of substance abuse at the Ministry of Health, said the amount of 23.9 litres of pure alcohol consumed by the drinkers in the country yearly is still quite high.

“But the more worrying thing is the high levels of consumption of unlicensed unregulated alcohol. The problem with this is that they are more likely to be adulterated. Most of the incidences of deaths and blindness we have had from the past have been in cases where people drink those brews. Sometimes they contain methanol which is harmful,” Dr Ndyanabangi said.

She added that the findings do not bode well because it is harder for the government to regulate the unlicensed alcohol. “It is easier to regulate the manufactured alcohol, and ensure standards are kept.
We need to find a way to bring this informal alcohol producing industry in to be able to protect the drinker,” she said.

The pie chart breakdown provided in the country profiles in the report show how Uganda comes behind other East African countries.

The global consumption average has risen from 6.1 litres to 6.2 litres per capita per year according to the 2011 Global Status on Alcohol and Health Report.

The highest consumption though, is still in the developed world, largely in the European nations though the report indicates the percentage of total drinkers has dropped from 68 to 64 per cent.

The prevalence of drinkers in the African region has barely changed over the last five years remaining at 29 per cent.

Only 56 per cent of alcohol drinkers in neighbouring Kenya were under others. Twenty per cent drank beer while 22 per cent drank spirits.
Tanzania and Rwanda posted 11 per cent of alcohol drinkers as beer drinkers.

The report shows wine is still not a drink of choice among East Africans as it barely accounted for one per cent of the drinkers in all the countries.
According to SABMILLER corporate affairs manager Onapito Ekolomoit, Ugandans avoid mainstream alcohol brands for economic reasons. They are deterred by price.

“Beers are quite expensive for the average Ugandan to drink in large quantities. All alcohol should not be treated generically in light of new research findings because usually the definition of alcohol in those researches is broad,” he said.

For the alcohol manufacturers, this indicates a future opportunity for a large unexploited market which is expected to open up as economic status improves among Ugandans.

Ugandans may be drinking large amounts of alcohol per capita, but the percentage of heavy episodic drinkers is still low at 3.4 per cent of the population.

Rwanda leads East Africa as the heaviest drinkers, with 20.1 per cent of the population reporting episodes of heavy drinking within the year 2010.

Kenya reported the lowest level with just 1.2 per cent of the total population.

According to the report, the globe’s favourite type of alcohol turned out to be spirits which accounted for just more than 50 per cent of total alcohol consumption.

They were followed by beer at 34.8 per cent. Local brews and smuggled alcohol accounted for only 7 per cent of all the alcohol consumed globally though it proved to be a favourite among alcohol drinkers in Africa.