The affordable education loan option
Cape Town - Is Africa, and by implication South Africa, a place of hard drinkers where alcohol abuse has taken on epidemic proportions?
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, a prominent weekly news magazine and several medical scientists and researchers seem to think so.
Time Magazine has called Africa a continent of alcohol abusers in an article published on the eve of a South African government decision to ban the advertising of alcoholic beverages.
On Wednesday, the Control of Marketing of Alcohol Bill will be tabled in Parliament. In its present form it bans all forms of alcohol advertising, sponsorships and promotions.
“Africa has a drinking problem. It is the new darling of multinational beverage companies looking to drive profits in an increasingly booze-saturated world,” the magazine said in an article by reporter Jessica Hatcher in Kenya.
And the reason?
“The continent has the perfect emerging-market conditions: a relatively small amount of commercial alcohol is being consumed; there is a rising middle class with disposable income; a huge market of young people is about to come of age; and there is an informal moonshine sector, up to four times the size of the commercial market, that governments would like to control,” the magazine said.
Medical researchers agree with both the magazine and the minister about the danger alcohol poses in sub-Saharan Africa.
They point out that South Africa is considered a high consumption country and that the results of this were evident across the country.
“South Africa is a hard-drinking country,” said the editor-in-chief of the South African Medical Journal, Professor Janet Seggie, in an editorial recently.
“It is reckoned that we consume in excess of 5 billion litres of alcohol annually; this figure is likely to be higher still if sorghum beer is included, and equates to 9 to 10 litres of pure alcohol a person.
“According to a World Health Organisation report released in 2011, this is among the highest per capita consumption rates in the world, and it is continuing to rise.”
Seggie, who in a brief interview with the Cape Argus pointed out she did not consider herself an authority on the subject, referred to an article published n the journal by Dr Charles Parry and colleagues, who cited evidence that advertising set out deliberately to target young people.
In a letter to a daily newspaper, Parry pointed out that evidence gathered from a review of time series data from 20 countries collected over 26 years demonstrated that a total ban on alcohol advertising resulted in reduced consumption of alcohol in these countries.
“Reduced per capita consumption has been shown to reduce harms at a national level,” he said.
“A comprehensive modelling study in the US, for example, found that a complete ban on alcohol advertising would reduce deaths from harmful drinking by 16 percent over the lifetime of the cohort studied, and mortality would be further reduced by adding tax increases.
“In contrast, a partial ban would only result in a 4 percent reduction in alcohol-related lives lost.”
But the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) on Monday said it noted “with caution” the announcement that the Control of Marketing of Alcohol Bill (the proposed bill) would be tabled at the next cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
“The ARA recognises the harm caused by alcohol abuse and is committed to work with government and other stakeholders to address the health and social impact of alcohol misuse,” said Jeff Milliken, chairman of the ARA.
“The ARA appeals to the cabinet to balance these genuine public health concerns with other equally important national priorities such as the significant economic implications for a potential ban of alcohol advertising in South Africa.”