WHY and WHAT? Why is alcohol harm soaring in my country? And what can be done to turn the trend around?

A YouTube report entitled “Alcohol abuse soars in South Africa” posted by Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller reporting from Johannesburg in January 2016 got me thinking.

WHY and WHAT? Why is alcohol harm soaring in my country? And what can be done to turn the trend around?

To those of us wondering what soaring means, we are talking about the reported rise in alcohol abuse in South Africa.

Looking back, in May 2014 the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) News reported about alcohol consumption having risen worldwide. Could it be this grip that held South African alcohol users and never let go? Having a history of serious alcohol consumption habits does not make matters easier for South Africa.

Who is consuming more alcohol?

It is said that there is a wide presence of homemade brews in Africa. And, the demand is quite high. In South Africa we have our very own “umqombothi” – a traditionally brewed beer made from sorghum. However the younger generation of alcohol consumers seemingly spend their money on mass-market or  macro-alcohol brands. As craft devotees they spend long hours at taverns.

But why is it that alcohol harm soaring?

In the end of 2015, we saw the biggest merger acquisition deals in history, with SABMiller being taken over by Anheuser-Busch InBev(ABInBev). SABMiller is the largest beer producing brewery in Africa, while ABInBev in the world’s largest brewer.

A spokesperson from SABMiller reported in that same video clip that they have perfected the art of producing beer in Africa using sorghum – this means that they have managed to reach out to our African roots, when it comes to beer. It is said that producing beer this way is cheaper in production costs, and also produces a starchy product “food and alcohol” if I might add. Hence, ABInBev is looking to capitalise on this access to a growing African market.

According to ABInBev beer volumes in Africa are expected to grow by 44% in the next 10 years. This statement answers our million dollar question: greater alcohol quantities production may even see alcohol prices going down leading to more alcohol consumption and abuse – especially among our young, who spend endless hours in beer spots.

What can be done to turn the trend around?

I think what could work to turn this troublesome trend in South Africa are a number of measures:

  • Percentage increases in taxes on alcoholic beverages (affordability)
  • Laws ensuring that liquor traders have shorter trading hours than at present (availability),
  • Prohibiting the sale of alcohol to already intoxicated persons (availability)
  • Increasing the alcohol minimum purchasing age to 21 years from 18 years as proposed by some local NGOs (availability)
  • Banning alcohol advertising in the country (total ads ban), and
  • Using celebrities as role models during alcoholism prevention campaings.

You see that for South Africa, with the heavy burden of alcohol harm in my country, the most impactful response would be integrating measures that decrease affordability of alcohol, decrease availability and ban advertising – accompanied by awareness raising and community mobilization initiatives.