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Massive Distillery Highlights Alcohol’s Impact on Public Health in Uganda

It’s such a huge operation. You know, I have visited some home brews—you know, women brewing alcohol in their own homes or in in smaller locations in Kampala, in very small operations. So, I thought I had some familiarity with how this works but clearly this was a much, much larger scale. You know, it’s so interesting as an alcohol researcher, we be very rarely talk about the illegal, illegally produced alcohol. And in this part of the world—in Uganda, in Kampala—it’s very high. And the tricky thing is that nobody really knows how to measure it. From a health point of view, there is a huge concern, not just about the alcohol consumption that follows but also because, of course, there’s no regulations in terms of how this alcohol is made. What is so clear when we visited this community is, you know, what they throw in, into the production.

And so from a toxic level point of view, from a cleanliness point of view, from all these pieces, we don’t know what the alcohol is actually like. Luckily there’s not been many reports of methanol poisoning, which can be a consequence of inappropriately distilled alcohol. But in addition, from a public health point of view, the health consequences for the women and men and the children who are exposed to these very hazardous conditions— the fumes in the air, the toxic run-off, the heat, the barrels that are exploding. Anecdotally, the the women in the neighborhood or in this community, they talk about barrels blowing up at least once a month. And so there is a huge risk for injuries and all kinds of adverse health consequences. And of course, nobody has even talked about you know these young children breathing the alcohol fumes and and all the toxic byproducts that might be in the air from all the burning stoves and the burning in the distillery process.

Alcohol serves as a barrier. It’s a barrier for development. It holds people back in poverty. It prevents women and young girls from education and gender equality. It fuels violence. It fuels the HIV epidemic. And so, to me unless we really focus more resources on alcohol, we’re really not going to tackle many of those other issues successfully. .