Ivory Coast is lat­est to crack down on al­co­hol sa­chets

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast: Each morn­ing at dawn, taxi driver Rene Kouame stops by his neigh­bor­hood bar in Abidjan for a po­tent pick-me-up: Two plas­tic sa­chets of “Che Gue­vara,” a drink of spiced rum and a host of chem­i­cals that costs 100 CFA francs, or about 15 US cents.

With an al­co­hol by vol­ume fig­ure of 43 per­cent, the 2-ounce sa­chets are about as in­tox­i­cat­ing as a typ­i­cal 16-ounce beer, but con­sumers say that’s just one of their virtues. Kouame claimed they give him a jolt of en­ergy other drinks can’t match - just what he needs to face a long day of hec­tic traf­fic, run-ins with po­lice and testy fare ne­go­ti­a­tions. “It in­spires me. It gives me a bit of courage to con­front the chal­lenges of life,” he said.

From now on, how­ever, Ivory Coast’s govern­ment wants Kouame to get his courage else­where. Last month, of­fi­cials an­nounced a ban on al­co­hol sa­chets, cit­ing their health risks and the need to com­bat al­co­holism, es­pe­cially among youth.

Half-dozen bans or par­tial bans

The mea­sure is one of more than a half-dozen bans or par­tial bans on al­co­hol sa­chets in ef­fect in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Other coun­tries with bans in­clude Zam­bia, Kenya, Tan­za­nia, Rwanda, Bu­rundi, Congo and South Su­dan, said JeanMarie Vianny Mau­rice Yameogo, the WHO’s Ivory Coast rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Track­ing the sales of al­co­hol sa­chets, many con­tain­ing spir­its dis­tilled from palm wine, is dif­fi­cult be­cause they are of­ten pro­duced out­side reg­u­lated mar­kets. The sa­chets are typ­i­cally mass-pro­duced in West Africa, with col­or­ful pack­ag­ing. The drink “Amour Pro­fond,” or “Deep Love,” shows a man stand­ing be­hind a bareshoul­dered woman, whis­per­ing into her ear.

The sa­chets are not nec­es­sar­ily more po­tent than other drinks avail­able. Palm wine-based tra­di­tional drinks such as koutoukou, which are sim­i­larly cheap, can have al­co­hol by vol­ume rates of more than 50 per­cent. But sa­chets are more likely to con­tain toxic chem­i­cals such as methanol, or wood al­co­hol, Yameogo said. And the pack­ag­ing of­ten boasts of health and other ben­e­fits that Yameogo said have no ba­sis in sci­ence. Some are said to pro­vide cures for mal­adies such as hem­or­rhoids, while oth­ers are re­puted to func­tion as ap­petite-sup­pres­sants or aphro­disi­acs.

More­over, the small sa­chets are easy to hide, mak­ing them es­pe­cially tempt­ing for school­child­ren, ac­cord­ing to the Ivo­rian govern­ment and the WHO. “It’s some­thing that’s ac­ces­si­ble to every­one. You can buy a sa­chet, put it in your pocket and just walk around like that,” said Pa­trick Gbodou, pres­i­dent of School Anti-Drug, an Ivo­rian or­ga­ni­za­tion that cam­paigns against drink­ing and drug use by stu­dents. The of­fi­cial drink­ing age in Ivory Coast is 21, but it is rarely en­forced, and teenage drink­ing is com­mon.

Ven­dors are wor­ried they will take a huge hit if the ban on sa­chets is en­forced, as many drinkers go for sa­chets and noth­ing else. “The govern­ment needs to have pity on us,” said Adjo Abega, the owner of a bar in Abidjan’s PortBouet district.

Drinkers gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edge the health risks posed by al­co­hol sa­chets, but some crit­i­cized the govern­ment for crack­ing down on their favorite vice while per­mit­ting other health haz­ards such as cig­a­rettes.

De­sire N’Gues­san, an un­em­ployed 26-yearold, be­gan drink­ing sa­chets when he was a teenager. He said he re­lies on them to ward off ill­ness and for mo­ti­va­tion to keep look­ing for work. “When you are not able to over­come your timid­ity, it can be dif­fi­cult to op­er­ate in your neigh­bor­hood,” N’Gues­san said.

If the govern­ment makes good on the ban, he warned, Ivo­rian chil­dren could turn to drugs. He also pre­dicted marches and protests. But Kouame, the taxi driver, was less wor­ried. In the ab­sence of al­co­hol sa­chets, he said he would switch up his morn­ing rou­tine by drink­ing glasses of palm wine in­stead, adding: “Man can adapt to any­thing.” — AP

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast: In this photo taken on Tues­day, Nov 22, 2016, a ven­dor pours a drink for clients from a plas­tic sa­chets con­tain­ing al­co­hol in the city. — AP

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