SA boozing ‘propaganda’ slated
Medical professionals have reacted strongly to research published this week that said curfews and mobility restrictions had a much greater effect than alcohol bans on reducing trauma admissions to hospitals during lockdown.
The research, funded by global drinks manufacturer Distell and carried out by an independent data analyst, said trauma cases under lockdown dropped 60%‚ but this was more likely due to curfews and mobility restrictions.
But scientists and doctors said the research was poor. “Its biggest flaw is it lacks the methodological detail needed to adequately assess the methodology applied,” said Charles Parry, director of the Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drug Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council.
The research drew heavily on trauma admissions data from five Western Cape hospitals, but Parry said health officials told him they had not released the raw data. “Where did they get it from?” he said.
“The logical conclusion is that they have imputed the data from screengrabs of graphs that have been released periodically.”
That raised questions about the accuracy of the trauma admissions data.
Parry said the paper’s other flaws included having only one peer reviewer as well as a lack of clarity on whether the authors were paid for their work.
He also noted that much pre-existing research does document a causal link between alcohol restrictions and trauma admissions and other outcomes.
“If they want to claim that there is no causal link, they should also explain why this large body of international research is incorrect,” he said.
Professor Leslie London, chair of public health medicine at the University of Cape Town, said the research has no validity until it is properly peer reviewed.
“The basic problem is there is no method in the paper,” he said. “They’ve released it into the pub- lic domain without any methods, and to me that’s unacceptable. It’s not science — it’s basically propaganda. And if you were serious about the science, you would release the reports, people could peer review the method.”
Dr Suhayl Essa, who works in a public hospital in Johannesburg, said South Africans have a toxic relationship with alcohol that goes back generations and is ingrained in society.
“As doctors we know that as soon as people get paid, hospitals are going to get much busier,” he said. Working on weekends just after payday makes him anxious, he said. On one weekend — from Friday to Sunday night — he attended to nearly 150 trauma patients by himself.
“I can confidently say that about 80% of those patients were all alcohol-related trauma,” he said.
On bad nights in trauma units, Essa has seen fights between patients and medical staff, and shouting matches with drunk family members.
“There’s blood, there’s sweat and there’s definitely a smell of alcohol in the air,” he said. “It’s kind of a wild scene.”
Essa said he understands that the alcohol industry creates jobs, “but there also needs to be some responsibility”.
Releasing the findings, Distell CEO Richard Rushton said the industry wants the government to be open to considering the data before implementing further bans.
“Alcohol is a factor [in trauma], but it’s a lot lower‚” he said. “For a common understanding of the problem‚ we need a common understanding of the facts.”
South African Liquor Brand Owners Association chair Sibani Mngadi said the industry is aware of the problems arising from irresponsible alcohol consumption‚ but he hopes the research will allow for a better understanding of the problem.