A 2009 survey by the World Health Organization on Non Communicable Diseases, or NCDs, and its risk factors shows that 20 percent of all Malawians consume alcohol.
The study indicates that one in five men and one in 50 women drink excessively. Overall, the survey shows that about eight percent of all people of all drinkers consume too much.
Health experts say alcohol abuse causes significant public health problems. Dr Beatrice Mwagomba, the Program Officer for the NCDs and Mental Health in the Ministry of Health, says "There [are]…major non communicable diseases [like] diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular diseases in general, respiratory diseases as well as cancers. [They include] liver cancer and esophagus cancer or cancer of the throat and there is evidence that alcohol does impact of these three major non communicable diseases.”
The study also shows how alcohol use affects sexual behavior, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Bazwell Zakeyu is the secretary for the Malawi Alcohol Policy Alliance, a group of NGOs lobbying for the adoption of anti-alcohol legislation. He says the proposed policy doesn’t aim to ban alcohol but reduce its consumption.
“For example [we are looking at] the limitation of hours [for opening and closing of bars and other outlets]," he says. "People proposed that in the morning up to sometime around 2 pm people should concentrate on developmental activities, not going to drinking places. Another area is the alcohol content. You understand that right now we have the liquor sachets with very high alcohol content up to 43 percent. So we are thinking that probably the government should see to it that the alcohol content be controlled.”
Zakeyu says the push for the new policy started in 2007 at a meeting between the Ministry of Health’s officials and representatives of the National Alcohol Policy. But the process has been meeting stiff resistance from breweries.
“They are saying that alcohol is an ordinary commodity," he says. "They are also saying that adverts from the alcohol industry are only there to guide people so that they have a better choice [Unlike cigarette packages, there are no health warnings on tins or bottles of alcohol].”
The breweries also say the draft legislation lacks evidence-based information from within Malawi. They say that experiences presented were taken from outside the country, claims which Zakeyu denies.
Zakeyu says despite the resistance, he hopes the policy will be adopted with support from government authorities.
Minister of Health Professor David Mphande had recently said the new policy will help restore economic prosperity to households and to the country as a whole.