Opinion – Youth alcohol consumption should not become a public health crisis

As countries in southern Africa decrease restrictions on the sale of alcohol, the question that should be asked is, do we want to see and experience a permanent change in how alcohol is sold and consumed in our communities and country? 

This question should be asked by politicians, media workers, civil society organisations working in development, injury and violence prevention, youth matters, alcoholic families, child neglect and children alcoholism. 

Surprisingly, the statistics show that only about a third of the over 15-year-olds drink. However, of those who drink, close to 70% drink heavily. This type of drinking causes physical and social harm in the short term including motor vehicle crashes, interpersonal violence, child abuse and neglect and long-term harm like disabilities and cancer. 

These alcohol-related harms often clog up our under-resourced health facilities, overburden our police and traffic officers and most importantly diverts government money away from implementing necessary development programmes that will bring meaningful change to individuals, families, and communities. 

The way alcohol is consumed and the harm caused by heavy drinking together with easily available and low alcohol prices, and aggressive, glamorised advertising creates a misperception of ‘mass drinking’. The statistics show this is not true. It’s the minority of people that drink, and government has the responsibility to protect those that don’t drink as well as those who do. 

Covid-19 has shown that our government can act in the interest of public health. Preventing 15-year-olds from drinking now and in the future is a public health issue. The statistics from the Namibian school survey project on alcohol and other drugs reports that 14.9% of 15 to 18-year-olds are drinking heavily. 

This means drinking until they are drunk making them vulnerable to unprotected sex; sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; sexual assault and rape; teenage pregnancies, school dropout and physical violence. 

It impacts their schooling, social skills and contributes to the breakdown of relationships between children and the rest of their families. 

Of course, adults also drink heavily. They drink and drive; spend household income and then are involved in domestic violence and child neglect because there is no money for food, education, health, transport and more alcohol. 

Governments can use policy to change the environment in which alcohol is sold and consumed, thereby creating conditions that can reduce underage drinking, reduce violence, reduce sexual health problems and improve schooling and family relations. 

Introducing policies that increase the minimum price of alcohol; limit how it is advertised and reduces its availability, especially in residential areas are in the hands of our government as they plan to rebuild our countries for a post-Covid future. 

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) Namibia urges our Namibian government to embrace their power and mandate to meaningfully change the lives of our citizens by introducing evidence-based alcohol policies. 

*Irene Kauzuu is SAAPA Namibia country liaison officer

Article originally available here.