Scourge of alcohol killing the nation

2011-06-11 17:17

Every day, 130 South Africans die because of alcohol. Although not ranked as the top drinking nation in the world, South Africa holds the ­global record for the highest number of people subjected to “alcohol-related harm”.

And that, senior health specialist in the Western Cape health ­department Dr Joanne ­Corrigall says means “tenfold the global average of male violence, double the global average of road deaths and among the highest rates of HIV, TB and foetal ­alcohol syndrome”.

Alcohol abuse costs the ­economy an estimated R38 billion a year through violence, crime, HIV, absenteeism, low productivity and incarceration.

Research by the Medical Research Council, the Human ­Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the University of Cape Town shows that South Africans consume five billion litres of alcohol a year. Typically, the nation not only imbibes massively over weekends, but every day of the week.

The authorities have thus far failed to contain the scourge. Late last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that the government was considering a ban on alcohol advertising in an attempt to combat alcohol abuse.

But experts argue that it would require more official action to contain the problem – the ­immediate implementation of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act, for example, would go a long way in this battle.

This system punishes offenders with demerit points and a suspension of their driver’s licence. After three suspensions, licences will be revoked.

“We want Aarto to be rolled out immediately,” said Caro Smit, ­director of South Africans Against Drunken Driving (Sadd).

The organisation also favoured “more checking for drinking” by traffic officers involved in the government’s much-publicised enforcement plan.

Sadd was under the impression that traffic officers concentrated on getting speedsters off the roads.

“We want them to keep on ­breathalysing to make sure they go on testing people.”

There was also a massive need to roll out crucial information to the public, said Smit, about the ­effects of various units of alcohol, the rates of elimination of alcohol from the body and the time needed to sober up.

Road Traffic Management Corporation spokesperson Ashref Ismail responded that the government has identified drinking and driving as a key law enforcement focal area for this year.

Regular blitzes, roadblocks and patrols by marked and ­unmarked vehicles, he said, ­ensured that drunk drivers were removed from the road.

Experts also said that Motsoaledi was not far off the mark when he pointed a finger at alcohol ads.

Liezille Pretorius, a post­doctoral research fellow at the HSRC, said: “Irrespective of the stricter laws and penalties against drunk driving, and awareness of the harmful effects of long-term and excessive alcohol consumption, the alcohol industry appears to be targeting heavy drinkers (sports supporters) and women with their ad campaigns.”

Corrigall argued that a broad national policy on alcohol needed to include both “reducing ­demand for alcohol as well as ­reducing the supply of alcohol”.

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