I have been following the alcohol use development in Ghana and the alcohol policy processes in Ghana for some time now.
There are amazing stories and happenings going on, which is are directly caused by consequence of alcohol use and I see that the road is closing down for us to initiate a concreate action plan to address alcohol policies. To advocate for and convince the government to put in place a functioning alcohol policy that will be our greatest achievement.
Unfortunately, many people I approach even during my trip in Ghana describes alcohol and other drugs use as only the first wave of a coming “Tsunami” which can take over the entire Sub-Saharan Africa if nothing effective is done.
The use of alcohol and other drugs in Ghana is not only widespread but continues to be one of the top issues that the health sectors are targeting. Here in Ghana and other African countries, the majority of the youth and adults suffers from negative influences of alcohol use thus causing harm to societies and communities: Armed robbery, vandalism, teenage or unwanted pregnancy, homelessness, HIV/AIDS and so forth.
I have questioned whether the cheap price of alcohol is contributing to an alarming trend of excessive alcohol use by young people and adults in Ghana.
So, please allow me to share with you this story from a Ghanaian Medical Doctor Arthur Kobina Kennedy on the status of alcohol in Ghana:
“I started practicing as a Physician-Specialist and teacher last October at the Cape Coast Regional Hospital and one of my biggest surprises has been related to Alcoholism.
In just about four months here in Ghana, I have seen more cases of Alcoholic Liver disease than I did in 15 years of practice in American hospitals. There is hardly a week in which we do not have a number of patients with distended bellies filled with fluid, on account of chronic consumption of Alcohol.
Last month, I attended the funeral of a thirty-six year-old teacher who took ill and died after a few weeks of apparently unknown causes. When I finished paying my respects to the family, I stood outside to chat with other sympathizers.
Within fifteen minutes, two different people said the teacher had died of excessive drinking. As one of them put it, “Many days, he would get to the Akpeteshie bar before it was opened. He said he needed ‘some’ to get going.”
I watched sadly as the children in his school marched silently with others to bury him. A young teacher, dead at 36, as a testament to an uncaring nation that would allow many, so young and so full of life, to drink their lives away. These concerns have also being shared by many other health care experts and lay-persons.
Speaking at a work-shop on substance abuse in the West Africa sub-region in Accra last year, Dr. Sammy Ohene, Head of Department of Psychiatry at the Ghana Medical School, lamented the lack of reliable national data on drug abuse.
In addition to Alcoholic Liver disease, alcohol has other wide-ranging and significant consequences.
It has effects on the heart and circulatory system, including High blood pressure and heart disease. It has effects on our digestive system, including gastritis leading to bleeding, pancreatitis and as mentioned, liver disease. It affects our nutrition and leads to low blood counts or anemia.
It causes many Neuro-psychiatric problems, including blackouts and harmful changes in the brain and nerves. When those addicted to it are without it, it causes severe withdrawal illnesses, manifested through tremors, seizures and sometimes death.
It has significant roles in motor vehicle accidents, poor job performance, marital problems and violence in general. It even affects the unborn. Children of mothers who drink have many effects, ranging from being born underweight to Fetal Alcohol syndrome.
Despite the alarming signs of this crisis all around us, we seem oblivious to the danger that we face. All around us, we see adverts on radio and T.V. promoting drinking as the trendy thing to do—and we do nothing.
We see drinking spots all around our Lorry stations and Car parks. We see many successful people stopping by drinking bars to drink and socialize every evening before they stagger home to their families, drunk.
We see the marketing of Alcoholic beverages under the guise of medicines, for impotence, Diabetes, Piles, infertility and many ailments without any efforts by the appropriate authorities to regulate them.
In villages all around our country, “Akpeteshie”, “Pito” “Ogogro” and other bars sit silently in corners, quietly ruining our families while we look on.
Unfortunately, what I have described is only the first wave of a coming “Tsunami”. Many experts believe that as the Latin American drug cartels are squeezed more and more by America’s Drug Enforcement Agency, they will turn to West Africa as a transit point for drugs originally destined for Europe.
With time, more of the drugs originally destined for Europe will be consumed here in West Africa ruining our families, destroying our health, causing mayhem on our streets and wreaking havoc on our already inadequate health and law-enforcement resources. The combination of these narcotic drugs with alcohol will have effects worse than the sum of its parts. It is going to be bad—very bad.
To avoid this coming plague, we need to sit up and act.
First, we need to get reliable data on the extent of Alcohol and other substance abuse and the scope of the harm that it is causing. To this end, government must dedicate more resources for research into substance abuse. There are many experts, in our Medical, Pharmacy and Nursing Schools as well as in other institutions that are capable of doing this kind of research given the needed resources.
Second, we must educate our society about the dangers of drugs and how to avoid the traps that lead to addiction. This will involve the media, the Ministries of Information and Education, our houses of worship and our schools, including institutions of higher learning.
I can see the day when most of our mega-Churches will get physicians and nurses to talk to their congregations about the dangers of Alcohol and other drugs while the Ministry of Transport joins with GPRTU to design programs and posters that will promote “zero-tolerance” for drinking amongst those who drive.
Third, we must improve our treatment facilities in respect of these substances. Currently, most of our hospitals do not have the resources to perform simple drug screens that are routine in other parts of the world. We must make the resources available in government hospitals and have it paid for by all insurances, including the National Health Insurance Scheme.
Fourth, while it would be impractical to ban the use of Alcohol, we must regulate its distribution more effectively and protect children, including the unborn from its effects.
To this end, we must look at how establishments to sell alcohol are licensed, where they can be placed and who can buy from them.
I know that most of these recommendations will be greeted with the excuse that they would cost too much. Before anyone makes that argument, we should think of the cost to all of us of drugs.
Think of the accidents on our roads. Think of the patients dying silently at home and in our hospitals. Think of the innocent children dying before birth or being born with Fetal Alcohol syndrome.
Think of the women being pummeled day in day out by drunken men—or the men being beaten by drunken women.
We can pay for these measures by taxing Alcohol and the businesses that profit from it, as well as the transport industry and then all of us who stand to benefit from a society where substance abuse is low and decreasing. Let us move forward together, in sobriety.”