The Acholi Sub-region in Uganda is coming under increasing scrutiny for alcohol harm. Alcohol is being increasingly identified as an risk factor for productivity among men. Alcohol causes lost productivity among both the youth and adult men.
This was observed at a gathering of community leaders convened by Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and Former Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) Party President Olara Otunnu. The LG officials and youth leaders at the meeting noted the manner in which alcohol threatened both public health and socioeconomic development.
The meeting specifically expressed concern about the prevalence of alcohol industry practices to promote the sale of alcohol in Acholi. The manner in which the presence of alcohol drives the increase in health issues in the region was specifically mentioned by the leaders. A few of the health issues pointed out were abnormal weight gain and toxic reactions in the body.
Both alcohol consumption and weight gain are directly linked to increased cancer risk. Nabinson Kidega Nok, Resident District Commissioner of Agago even expressed a belief that the prevalence of alcohol in the community was a deliberate attack on the productivity of the people. Dr. Olara Otunnu emphasized the potential damage to the Acholi people’s reputation and integrity if these ongoing issues were not fully resolved.
Uganda affected by high levels of alcohol harm
Earlier this year, Movendi International reported on the worryingly high levels of alcohol use in Uganda. The WHO revealed the extent of the alcohol-related burden through a world health report. The report is entitled “World Health Statistics 2023: Monitoring Health for the SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals”. The World Health Statistics Report is the annual compilation of health and health-related indicators which has been published by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2005.
The World Health Statistics 2023 report shows staggering levels of alcohol use in Uganda. Per capita alcohol consumption is 12.21 liters of alcohol per year in Uganda.
This is much higher than the African region average of 6.3 liters, and the global average of 6.18 liters per person per year reflected in the WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, 2018.
- The report shows a difference in the alcohol consumption levels of men and women.
- Men use alcohol more than women in Uganda.
- On average, men consume about 19.93 liters of pure alcohol annually, while women consume 4.88 liters.
Uganda cause for particular concern in the African region
Uganda’s statistics are particularly worrying because alcohol causes a high burden to the country. This includes significant social and economic consequences as well as public health issues.
At the gathering, Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo stressed the need for innovative solutions to address the challenges faced by the Acholi Sub-region. The Chief Justice highlighted the manner in which alcohol was eroding the local culture. Some of the changes in social norms people expressed concern about were the manner in which women in the community consumed alcohol.
One of the solutions suggested by the gathering aims at reducing the availability of alcohol through a time limitation. Deputy Mayor Christine Olok of Gulu City Council advocated for the implementation of a bylaw to prevent early morning alcohol use. She also suggested limiting alcohol sales to men.
Other socioeconomic challenges in the Sub-region include high poverty rates, rampant land sales, high rates of teenage pregnancy, and poor academic performance. The alcohol burden in the area only serves to exacerbate these issues for the men and women in the community.
Alcohol policy in Uganda
Gulu District Council enacted the Alcohol Drinks Ordinance for the region in November, 2016. This policy aimed to regulate alcohol retail and consumption hours. Significantly, it also banned the sale of gin in plastic bottles smaller than 250ml.
The effort to develop an evidence-based, comprehensive, and cost-effective way to the heavy alcohol burden in Uganda is a story of ups and downs – over decades.
To address this situation, WHO in collaboration with international partners, launched the SAFER initiative in 2018. SAFER is a World Health Organization initiative and technical package that can help governments reduce the use of alcohol and its related burden. The SAFER initiative was launched in Uganda to complement Uganda’s efforts to address escalating alcohol harm. Of key importance is the 2019 National Alcohol Control Policy and the process of developing the 2022 Alcohol Control Bill which seek to improve alcohol policy solutions to reach health and development for all Ugandans.
Movendi International has chronicled the journey towards a modern and comprehensive alcohol law in Uganda over the years – with more than 40 articles since 2013.