A study at Othaya Level Four hospital has exposed how alcohol abuse is also fuelling tuberculosis, even as a Nation investigation highlights disquiet in Central over the devastation alcoholism is causing to the region.
According to the African Journal of Alcohol & Drug Abuse published on December 31, 2022, the study sought to establish the link between alcohol abuse and tuberculosis prevalence.
The hospital recorded the highest number of new TB incidences in 2018 and 2019 compared to other Level Four health facilities, which explains its choice for the study that targeted 47 tuberculosis patients, one clinical officer, a nurse, a social worker and a public health officer.
Alcohol intake, particularly heavy consumption, is a significant risk factor for tuberculosis, with Kenya named among 22 TB high-burden countries in the world, says the publication posted by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada).
“The study found that 40 per cent of TB patients had low-risk consumption while an equal number had hazardous or harmful alcohol consumption respectively,” says the report, adding that “the results showed that 20 per cent had a score of over 15, meaning that they were alcohol dependent.”
“Altogether, the study showed that the majority 60 per cent of the respondents who consumed alcohol abuse it,” says the report that recommends screening for alcohol abuse for TB patients. The report says the County Government of Nyeri ought to enforce existing alcohol control regulations to reduce alcohol abuse.
“For instance, the requirement that bars should only open at 5pm is usually not observed and this requirement ought to be enforced to reduce alcohol accessibility,” says the report which also reveals that married respondents were 7.2 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
The National Registration Bureau conducted a survey that sought to analyse the levels of alcoholism and drug abuse and showed that the Central region had the highest alcoholism rate among the civil service.
The findings showed that 12 out of 40 people identified during the survey were from Central region while the remaining 28 were distributed amongst Eastern, Coast, North Eastern, Nyanza and Western regions.
A Nation investigation has established that consumption of alcohol in the region starts at 5am when bars open in violation of the law, with the crisis also fuelled by the proliferation of cheap counterfeit liquor, packaged in the brand names of popular alcoholic drinks.
It is a worrying trend that has community leaders and other stakeholders like the Church worried. Across towns and villages, every waking day, it is common to see people staggering on the streets or sleeping on pavements, drunk to a stupor.
The consequence of this is broken marriages and families, increased cases of domestic violence, reduced productivity and insecurity.
Women and children have suffered the bane of this reality because men are the leading abusers of alcohol. Nyambura* from Mugaa village in Kandara constituency, Muranga County, has lost count of the number of times people have called her to collect her husband from the streets, sometimes drenched in rainwater that soaked him while he was passed out in a ditch. He retired as a teacher last June and his drinking has gotten worse.
“He wakes up early and goes to the pub to drink at 7am… sometimes even asking my son to accompany him,” she said, adding that, whenever she raises questions over the drinking, she is met with verbal and sometimes physical abuse.
The story is the same for many women in Muranga, Kirinyaga and Nyeri counties, who now want the national government to curb the sale of cheap liquor in the region.
Men, they said, cannot engage in any economic activity leaving women to sustain their families and their conjugal rights are neglected.
Residents claim bar owners have the authorities in their pockets as they offer hefty bribes to operate outside the stipulated time.
Ms Cecilia Wanja hails from Kagumo in Kirinyaga County. Her husband worked as a casual labourer on a construction site but his drinking habits rendered him jobless after he failed to show up for work for three days in a row.
“He would arrive to work drunk or skip all together. Sometimes he would pass by the pub and arrive late or sneak out to quench his thirst… his employer told him to stay away from the construction site,” she offered.
She added that, when he could not sustain his drinking due to lack of an income, he started selling household items, farm produce, farming implements and chicken.
Basking in the sun
“Whenever questioned, he would turn on me with blows and insults,” she said, adding that leaving him was not an option. “We have established a home together and we have children,” she said.
The scenario at Kibereke in Murang’a County mirrors that of a majority of shopping centres in the region. Men sit around basking in the sun or talk in small groups doing nothing. Residents say people are drunk as early as 5am.
According to Mr Benjamin Mwangi, a church leader, the elderly have influenced younger men into the drinking culture.
“It is a disaster and the consequences will be dire and felt in years to come. Action needs to be taken now to reverse the effects of alcoholism in the society,” he said, adding that, in some instances, young men were refusing to leave the village.
Those that have fallen victim to alcoholism blame unemployment and other socioeconomic challenges. Locals are forced to hire farmhands from other counties.
“Families cannot be sustained because of alcoholism and the moral fabric that held society together has gradually degraded and people have become unruly,” said Mr Mwangi.
Readily available second-generation liquor is the main cause of alcoholism in the region, he said.
“Whatever they are drinking is turning them into weaklings who cannot undertake any manual labour,” Mr Mwangi added.
Community leaders have raised concerns, saying, many men have refused to get married, which may affect future generations. Schools that had three streams per class have been reduced to one because there are no children, they said.
“Men in their 40s are not eager to start families and that is frustrating because we are losing a generation,” said Mr Peter Kanyua.
A group of women in Kandara Constituency have initiated a “boy-child empowerment” programme that seeks to rehabilitate alcoholics.
“They tell me they drink due to unemployment, frustrations and stress but we need the help of the authorities to end this problem. Homes are becoming women-led as the men are hooked to the bottle,” she said.
The Kenya Alcoholic Drinks Control Act prohibited the sale of alcohol in bars before 2pm on weekends and 5pm on weekdays.
But this law is not keenly being followed as some bars are open before the stipulated time and no action is taken despite protests by residents in areas they operate.
‘There is some laxity on the side of the government because they know there is a drinking problem in Central region but those that defy the law go unpunished. They should impose hefty fines on bar owners who operate outside legal hours,” he added, noting that there should be a crackdown on people selling second-generation alcohol.
In Nyeri County, at the Karia Health and Rehabilitation Centre which can accommodate about 40 patients, the number has significantly gone down despite a growing demand for the service.
Since the introduction of a fee, the facility has taken in between 20 and 25 patients at any given time.
Patients have to pay Sh60, 000 for the entire three months that they spend there in recovery.
“Due to the increased demand for the service, the county is planning to have the facility accredited by the National Health and Insurance Fund (NHIF) to help many people. There are also plans to open other rehabilitation centres,” said Dr Nelson Muriu, the county’s director of health services.
He stated that in Nyeri, alcoholism was threatening a whole generation as its impacts are felt in almost every household.
Some of the effects, he said, include theft, a rise in criminal activities, marriage breakups, school dropout, increased transmittable diseases such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and a rise in unintended pregnancies.
“The national government needs to ban the sale of second-generation alcohol and regulate drinking hours. It also needs to carry out sensitisation programmes on the need for rehabilitation,” he said.
Last week on Thursday, President William Ruto called on the provincial administration in Central to come up with a plan to eradicate alcohol abuse in the region, saying, substance abuse amongst the youth was a worrying trend.