Thanks to efforts from local advocates and international partners, the alcohol policy advocacy movement in East Africa is gaining traction. As a result, 2013 saw great gains for the movement, even though there were setbacks, too. These are some of the highlights.
In Burundi, alcohol policy advocates celebrated victory when the government through the Ministry of Trade banned the packing of alcohol in small plastic bags known as sachets.
Due to their low prices and high alcohol content – up to 40% – the sachets were easily accessible to young people and therefore very popular. As a result they were wreaking havoc in Burundi leading various groups to petition the government for their withdrawal from the market. The government’s response is laudable.
Unfortunately the alcohol industry in Burundi has co-opted some Civil Society Organizations to work with them in promotion of so called “responsible” alcohol use.
However, alcohol policy advocacy efforts remain on course. Advocates engaged members of parliament, civil society and representatives of various government ministries in a workshop to reflect on the need for a national alcohol policy. This meeting is hoped to be the first of many in a process that will deliver a policy.
In Kenya an alcohol policy campaigner was appointed as Chairman of NACADA, the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Authority.
John Mututho, the former Member of Parliament (MP) who tabled a private members bill that became the landmark Alcoholic Drinks Control Act 2010, was controversially appointed to head NACADA, the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Authority.
Mr. Mututho was first appointed through a gazette notice in September but his appointment was revoked less than a month later following recommendations by the National Security and Administration Parliamentary Committee. Its decision was informed by pending criminal and civil cases against Mr. Mututho, though it was rumored that the revocation was due to lobbying by the alcohol industry. Mr Mututho was however reinstated when MP’s voted against the committee’s decision saying he was a passionate crusader against alcohol harm.
History was made when in Kenya for the first time ever, civil society organizations received funds from the Alcoholic Drinks Control Fund. The fund which was established by the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act (2010) provides that 15% of the proceeds from licenses fees obtained from production and sale of alcoholic beverages should be used to fund civil society programs covering the areas of alcohol research, documentation, prevention education and rehabilitation of alcoholics.
Still in Kenya efforts to curb driving under the influence and road accidents saw the reintroduction of the breath alcohol content measuring device “Alcoblow”. The devices were introduced through legal notice number 138 of October 2011, following a High Court suspension after motorists raised concerns over hygiene and the risk of disease.
In spite of fierce opposition from some sectors of the public, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) working collaboratively with the Ministry of Transport are keen on stemming the more than 6,000 road accidents and over 3,000 fatalities recorded in 2013. The new devices include a disposable mouth piece to address hygiene concerns.
In Tanzania, the Tanzania Alcohol Network (TAANET) is campaigning for the Ministry of Health to designate a national No Alcohol Day. This day would raise the profile of the health, social and economic harms caused by alcohol and serve to build public and political support for alcohol policies.
Also in Tanzania, various aspects of alcohol were explored during the Tanzania Public Health Association’s (TPHA) 30th Annual Scientific Meeting and Annual general Meeting. Out of the 55 papers presented 5 were on alcohol.
The presentations included papers on the Alcohol Situational Assessment study that covered prevalence rates of alcohol consumption across rural and urban areas in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania.
This five-day meeting was held under the theme, “An Intersectoral Approach to Addressing Social Determinants of Health in Tanzania, Closing the Health Inequality Gaps.”
The increase of research papers on alcohol at such meetings is an important indicator of the growing interest in the subject, an opportunity for advocacy and it generates evidence that can be used to advocate for policies.
Great strides towards gaining political support for alcohol policy and legislation were made during several meetings held between alcohol policy advocates and law makers in the Tanzanian capital Dodoma. Among the achievements made during these meetings were the formation of an alcohol concern group that will work jointly with alcohol experts, to identify issues and gaps in policy and legislation which need review. An action plan to guide the efforts of this group was also developed.
The alcohol policy advocates also reached a consensus with the policy makers on the urgent need to ban alcohol in plastic sachets. This would make Tanzania the third East African country to enforce a similar ban after Kenya and Burundi, with Uganda hot on their heels. Such a move would lend great momentum to the alcohol policy movement in East Africa. An actual ban is anticipated in 2014.
In Rwanda, alcohol policy advocates organized a conference titled Stakeholder’s Meeting on the Current Alcohol Policy Situation in Rwanda.
The main objective of the conference was to share progress on the development of evidence based alcohol policies in Rwanda. As part of this, participants were updated on the current status of Rwanda’s policies and laws relating to alcohol abuse.
The conference also sought to reinforce partnership between civil society actors, government and other partners towards fighting against the effects of alcohol in Rwandan society. This meeting was a step towards informing Rwanda’s national response to the harms of alcohol and other drugs.
In addition, a partnership agreement between alcohol policy advocates and journalists was forged following a press conference in Kigali. The idea behind this strategic move was to enlist the support of the media in alcohol policy advocacy and education towards reducing the harms caused by alcohol.
Finally, Regional and international Alcohol policy advocates made their presence felt at the 4th annual EAC (East Africa Community) Health and Scientific Conference in Kigali by releasing a press release titled “Alcohol a Major Obstacle to Economic and Societal Development in Africa-But Will East African Community Respond Properly?”
The press release discussed the need to recognize the harms caused by alcohol from available scientific evidence. It also linked alcohol to the 5 MDG’s that are negatively affected by alcohol harm.
In Uganda, alcohol policy advocacy was robust. Several advocacy tools were published among them, the State of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Report, 2013. The report was launched in an event attended by the press and other stakeholders.
1,200 policy briefs describing the burden of alcohol on the Ugandan economy and the cost of inaction were also printed and distributed to Members of Parliament.
Actual attempts were also made to enact legislation on alcohol at both local and national government levels. In Nebbi district an ordinance outlawing daytime sale and consumption of alcohol was enacted. The ordinance also prohibits transportation and consumption of alcohol in sachets and the local gin, Kasese. It’s pending approval by the Attorney General.
A Private Member’s Bill seeking to regulate drinking hours, prohibit sales of alcohol in residential areas, ban promotions and sale of alcohol in sachets, as well as from vehicles was tabled in the Ugandan Parliament.
The Bill, which seeks to ban consumption and sale of alcohol before 5pm will also outlaw sale of alcohol to minors. As usual, the alcohol industry responded by pointing a finger at informal alcohol as the source of alcohol related problems and by suggesting “responsible alcohol use” as the solution.
Finally, Uganda hosted the first ever Kettil Bruun Society (KBS) Alcohol Epidemiology Symposium, this 39th edition of the annual symposium that was held at the Speke Resort Munyonyo.
The activities of the alcohol policy movement in East Africa in 2013 provide a very positive outlook for 2014. We look forward!