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How alcohol kills South Africans

During 2015 about 170 South Africans died a day from the effects of alcohol.

During 2015 about 170 South Africans died a day from the effects of alcohol.

Published Jul 7, 2018


Johannesburg - When alcohol kills it discriminates - it picks on the poor and sick and goes lightly on the rich.

During 2015 about 170 South Africans died a day from the effects of alcohol.

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In total, this added up to 63 500 South Africans, and of this number 60% were classified as poor and only 15% as rich.

This is according to research that appeared in the journal BMC Medicine, which for the first time in South Africa has allowed scientists a peek into how alcohol kills across the nation.

What they found was that of 529 400 deaths of all causes in 2015 one in 10 could be attributed to alcohol use.

"Richer South Africans drink more often, but less heavily. But the poorer groups they will binge drink over a weekend. That profile of drinking is more hazardous," said Professor Charles Parry, of the Medical Research Council, who was an author in the study.

"Plus they are more likely to be drinking in a place where they are harmed, like a shebeen," he added.

The main killers among the poor are related to tuberculosis and Aids/HIV.

South Africa’s wealthy, the research showed, are more likely to die from alcohol-related injuries and diseases like cancer.

The findings of the paper are not surprising. South Africans have long had a reputation of being a nation of hardened drinkers.

The paper mentioned that in 2016 20% of South African women and 50% of men classified themselves as drinkers. But of these 20% of women and 45% of men regularly took part in heavy drinking sessions.

In southern Africa, South Africa has double the regional average of alcohol consumption.

The authors of the paper said that they hoped that their research could "direct preventative measures and interventions on those at highest risk."

This study also comes at a time when the Liquor Amendment Bill is on its way to being ratified. The bill is to be discussed by cabinet in March. If it comes into law it will move the drinking age from 18 to 21.

It is one of many interventions Parry believes could help lessen the effects of hardened drinking.

"I have always thought of a stepped approach. Maybe we raise it to 19 and see how that goes. Research overseas has shown an impact," explained Parry.

He said that after the minimum drinking age was raised to 21 in the US there was an 11% decrease in the number of single vehicle night-time crashes involving young drivers.

Parry found that in Tshwane in 2014/15 56% of male drinkers between 18 and 20 on a typical night out would consume the alcohol equivalent of 10 330ml beers.

What they found among women of the same age group was that 73% of them were drinking the alcohol equivalent of seven-and-a-half standard drinks.

Adolescent drinking was also found to be linked to rape and school failure.

Parry also believes that increasing sin taxes would also help reduce alcohol consumption, particularly among the poor.

What will also help, he believes, is alcohol companies reducing the sizes of bottles.

Dr Sue Goldstein, who works for Soul City, agreed that the poor bear the brunt of alcohol abuse.  She said that any legislation introduced has to be enforced.

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Health & Welfare