BLANTYRE, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Four years
ago, Malawian teenager Anthony had ambitions to become a doctor,
but in his last year at school he was diagnosed with liver
cirrhosis after becoming hooked on cheap, strong liquor.
Campaigners in the southern African country say potent
alcohol - ten times the strength of normal beer - is destroying
young lives, potentially impacting the country's development.
They are calling for a complete ban on the liquor.
"Back then I never thought of the consequences," said
Anthony who asked not to give his second name. "We used to sneak
out with friends to go drinking since it was cheap and easy to
get but then I started getting ill often."
Anthony, who lives with his uncle in Malawi's commercial hub
Blantyre, began missing class due to illness and his grades
slipped. He started sleeping in hostels and often ended up in
"My ambition was to become a doctor but I performed
miserably at the final examination. Now I assist my brother at
his grocery shop."
Anthony is one of many young people who have become addicted
to cheap super-strength liquor since it appeared in Malawi about
a decade ago.
One teacher told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that even
some primary school children were drinking after class - the
behaviour of some in her school indicated they were also
drinking between lessons.
The super-strength liquor is called masacheti - derived from
the word sachet because it used to be sold in small plastic
pouches. The sachets cost as little as 100 Malawi Kwacha (14
cents) making them affordable to both the poor and the young.
Pressure groups, concerned about growing alcohol abuse among
Malawi's youth are pushing for new legislation on the
production, distribution and sale of alcohol.
A draft alcohol policy drawn up by the Ministry of Health
and non-governmental organisations, which includes
recommendations to restrict young people's access to alcohol,
was presented to the cabinet for approval in 2015, but has still
not been adopted.
Drug Fight Malawi (DFM), a group campaigning for tougher
controls, said it believed the drinks industry had intervened to
block the policy.
Malawi's Information Minister Nicholas Dausi could not
comment on the delay, but agreed alcohol was having a negative
impact on development.
However, he said the government could not solve the problem
alone – community leaders and families also needed to take
There is limited data on alcohol use in Malawi, but a survey
by the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization suggests
nearly a fifth of men drink regularly.
Although alcohol use is much lower than in many countries,
campaigners are concerned about an increase in heavy drinking
among the young.
"The net effect is to create a wasted generation," said DFM
project officer Kulimbamtima Chiotcha. "Alcohol is ...
subverting the people's right to development."
Chiotcha, who is also a board member of the Southern African
Alcohol Policy Alliance, added that alcohol related illnesses
and deaths had increased in the last decade.
Oystein Bakke, an adviser with international development
agency FORUT, which works with Malawian NGOs to curb heavy
drinking, said alcohol was causing considerable harm in many
countries in southern Africa with studies suggesting the poor
were particularly badly affected.
"Malawi has a young population and alcohol is cheap and also
easily accessible to youths. Good interventions are very much
needed," he added.
Numerous brands of cheap spirits with over 40 percent
alcohol content are on sale throughout Malawi, where half the
population lives below the poverty line.
Malawi banned cheap alcohol sachets in 2015 amid growing
concern over alcohol abuse among the young and reports of
children drinking in class.
But teachers and campaigners say the ban has not addressed
the problem. Manufacturers now sell the liquor in 5-litre
bottles and it is then decanted into small measures and sold
from grocery stores and roadside shacks.
The alcohol is also being exported to neighbouring
On a rainy Monday morning, Michael is sitting head down in a
makeshift building in a market in Blantyre's Zingwangwa
township. Now and then, the 16-year-old picks up a soft drinks
bottle and pours out a tot of clear alcohol.
"I started drinking when I was 13, and now I can drink a
large quantity without showing it," he said, adding that the
pocket money from his parents was enough to get him drunk.
Michael said he was aware of the risks, but found it
difficult to stop.
"I fear for my health because of the stories I hear about my
friends who've developed complications," he said.
"I even know some older than me who have died because of
drinking, but I also feel free when drunk."
($1 = 716.9100 kwacha)
(Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers
humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and
climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)