CSOs weigh in on sub-standard spirits recommended by Malawi Bureau of Standards

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have weighed in on a story published by Nyasa Times last week that the story about the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS)— on freeing substandard spirit to the public— should not be overlooked but worked with immediate attention for posterity.

George Jobe of Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) and Nelson Zakeyu of Drug Fight Malawi as well as Charles Kajoloweka of Youth and Society (YAS) have told Nyasa Times that it is a serious issue.

George Jobe

Jobe said: “We don’t understand the complexity. But we know this is a serious issue. We commend Nyasa Times and the publishers for providing this information to us. We will do the needful.

“Issues of health should not be taken for granted. We still fight, and we think you will help us to move forward. The issue about the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) should not really happen in this day and age.”

And executive director of Drug Fight Malawi, Nelson Zakeyu, said: “The one who is at the centre of testing is very unfortunate. We work towards an alcohol free-world much as we know it cannot be immediately happening. But this is stupid. We want our youths to abstain from alcohol and drugs in totality.”

And Youth and Society (YAS) executive director, Charles Kajoloweka, said we have programmes that have propelled us as to where we are.

Said Kajoloweka: “You brought this issue to our attention. Government should not only work on this but on all government MDAs.”

Last week Nyasa Times published that two renowned Malawian health experts-cum-researchers who faulted the Malawi Bureau Standards (MBS) for allowing Press Cane Limited (PCL) to sell its rectified spirit to the public which, they said, is substandard.

The two – Dr Charles Dzamalala and Dr. YB Mlombe – operating under the banner of Health and Civic Research Initiative Ltd already wrote MBS’ Director of Testing Services, Stephen Kuyeli, question why the Bureau why PCL was allowed to sell its spirit.

While Dzamalala is a renowned pathologist and researcher, Dr Mlombe is too, apart from owning the Dr. YB Mlombe Private Clinic in the capital Lilongwe.

Nyasa Times learnt that as per standard of Malawi MS573:2007(ICS.080.60) (Ethanol specification), stipulates that the maximum level of methanol in rectified spirit should be 50 parts per million (ppm).

But the two say that after the samples were sent to a South African laboratory, it was discovered that Press Cane Limited rectified spirit has got 140 ppm of methanol.

In their letter to MBS, signed by Mlombe as the research initiative’s board chairperson and Dzamalala as board secretary, and issued on September 22, 2021 titled “Test Results Reports for Rectified Alcohol” which Nyasa Times saw and was duly acknowledged by MBS with the Bureau’s stamp.

The letter questions Kuyeli who released a report indexed PEST /120/AX/06 which showed that the sample he carried on rectified spirit from PCL showed no trace of methanol, Acetone, Propanol or pentanol.

However, after some research it showed that the rectified spirit used in Malawi from PCL is “dangerous” and “impure” as it can cause leukemia skin cancer and make people blind.

“We wrote to request follow up on the PEST /20/AX/06 report as provided by MBS as custodian of Standards in the country. It is desirable that MBS procedures carry the trust of all of us and are accurate,” reads the letter.

The letter, therefore, proposes a committee of experts drawn from MBS, Chancellor College Chemistry Department, Press Cane Limited, Ethanol Limited, and Hacri Limited to conduct further tests.

“The Committee shall then witness the testing process of the same sample at Presscane in order to come to an understanding of the local testing methods and processes available in Malawi and identify any issues that might stand in the way of an accurate determination of impurities in alcohols that are accessible for human consumption in the country.

“It is in the interest of public health to ensure that dangerous impurities such as methanol are not supplied to be in contact by humans,” adds the letter.

According to the letter, Presscane is grossly faulted for using the rectified spirit for hand sanitizer and methylated spirit thereby putting the lives of the population at risk just for profits.

“The results from MBS which showed no impurities for rectified spirits are also concerning as to whether they were genuine results or they were unreliable results from an incompetent or from a corrupt laboratory,” the letter reads.


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