The recent global landmark study declaring any amount of alcohol bad for health missed out on Kenya’s most notorious drinkers.
The study covering 26 years in 195 countries classified Kenya among nations with the lowest alcohol consumption in the world.
The study which has created a global buzz since publication on August 23rd puts the number of Kenyans consuming alcohol at less than 20 per cent.
This seems to resonate with figures released by the National Campaign against Drug Abuse (Nacada) in June putting the average national alcohol consumption in Kenya at 12.2 per cent.
The global study shows on average Kenya women to consume less than one drink a day while men take about two drinks daily.
In Tanzania alcohol consumption, the study shows is twice as much as in Kenya and three times higher in Uganda.
But there is more to these figures before Kenyans start uncorking the Champaign. “Our consumption estimates might not fully capture illicit production or unrecorded consumption given our use of sales data in estimation,” says the global study.
This means thousands of Kenyans drinking very hard illicit, unrecorded or informal alcohol may not have been captured in the new global study.
“I will explain the phenomenon once back in Nairobi in the next few days,” said Prof Peter Njenga Keiyoro of the University of Nairobi.
Prof Keiyoro is one of the two Kenya experts who participated in the global alcohol study the other being Dr Josephine Wanjiku Ngunjiri of the University of Embu.
Coincidentally on the same day the global alcohol report was published a second one on consumption of unrecorded alcohol in Kenya was also published by the Texas A&M University, US.
Unrecorded drinks include illegal, informal or counterfeits which are likely to be of high unregulated alcohol content.
The study had analysed data on 4,500 adults in Kenya showing 37 per cent of people are consuming this type of informal alcohol.
Overall, the study found people taking unrecorded alcohol are also likely to smoke and practice binge drinking regularly where they consume more than six drinks at a single sitting.
Kenyans’ taste for hard spirits, alcohol marketers say, is largely an indicator of changing lifestyles and a society that has fallen on hard times mainly in this decade.
Citing 2010 data the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014 had listed Kenya as the leading consumer of beer in the region. Normally beer has less alcohol content that most other drinks.
The report showed 56 per cent of all alcohol consumed in Kenya then to be beer, 22 per cent spirits, two per cent wine and 20 per cent as others, including traditional drinks.
However this map has since changed dramatically, with cheaper high strength spirits becoming the drink of choice, especially for the low income earners.
The 2014 East African Breweries Limited (EABL) performance report showed the highest growth in sales, at 67 per cent, for the brewer was in spirits mainly targeting the lower income earners.
A study carried out last year by German and University of Nairobi scientists, reported alcoholic drinks in Nairobi to have become ‘harder’ than ever before.
The researchers had tested legal second generation and illicit drinks in Nairobi reporting alcohol content to be way above safe or recommended levels.
Alcohol content in all the spirits was found to be running up to 60 per cent over above the considered safe limits.
The researchers suggested that chang’aa being sold in parts of Nairobi was being spiked with a mixture of pure ethanol to achieve a strong but dangerous kick.
But it is not only the poor in Kenya who have developed a taste for hard drinks. The 2017 Alcoholic Drinks Survey in Kenya, by the research firm, Euromonitor International, showed huge growth rates for the high-end imported spirits.
Alcohol consumption, the new global study says exposes the poor mainly to tuberculosis, liver cirrhosis and other chronic liver diseases.
For richer countries and individuals alcohol, the report says is the main cause of heart diseases, diabetes and liver cancer.
NACADA says at least 2.8 million Kenyans are battling alcohol-related disorders with other official data showing the country losing at least 5,000 people to alcoholism every year.
Suggestions made in the global study for limiting the health risks from alcohol including higher taxes on alcohol, fewer drinking hours, less accessibility and limiting advertising have already been tried in Kenya with little impact.
“We want Parliament to move with speed and totally ban all types of alcohol advertising,” demands David Makumi, of the Kenya Network of Cancer Organizations
Makumi also suggests all alcoholic drinks carry a warning saying ‘there is no safe’ amount of alcohol and also disassociate all sports from alcohol sponsorships.