Taming a generation of alcoholics and chamba smokers in Malawi

Tiyese Landirani (not her real name), a Blantyre resident living in Chirimba Township is a worried mother.

Liquor in plastic bottles displayed for sale at one of the markets in Blantyre – Pic by Francis Mphweya

Her 23-year-old son started taking liquor at the age of 15 when he was in Form 2.

“I did not expect it until the time when my son started smelling of alcohol each time he came back home in the evenings. As a parent, I confronted him and did all I could to stop him but he could not change,” Landirani says.

Due to alcoholism, his performance at school gradually dwindled. No wonder he failed his Junior Certificate Examinations that year.

“I persuaded him to go back to school which he did at long last but did not stop his drinking habits which eventually led him to drop out of school when he reached Form 3.

“Today his life is dependent on alcohol such that he can’t do anything productive because he spends most of his time and money on alcohol. I feel bad as a parent because most of his friends are educated and earning a living,” Landirani laments.

Alcohol and substance abuse has become a major problem in Malawi. Many youths are drinking spirits and smoking marijuana which is forecasting a bad future for the country.

Malawi News Agency (Mana) observes that substances such as marijuana, locally known as chamba, are easily accessed by the youth.

Even spirits packaged in plastic bottles are still available on the markets despite government ban. They are sold at lower prices than the usual stuff which makes them affordable to the youth.

Saint John of God House of Hospitality Clinical Director, Michael Nyirenda says the mental health hospital in Mzuzu has recorded extreme cases of clients who abuse the substances.

He says about 7 to 8 percent of those who obtained services at the hospital’s out–patient department in 2016 had serious problems resulting from chamba smoking and alcohol abuse.

“We used to have people starting to abuse substances late in their adolescence. But now we receive children as young as 12 and 15 years; most of whom, are in secondary school. This should be a concern for the nation. It only shows how big the problem is on the ground,” Nyirenda says.

“In 2016, an average of 12 clients attended our Addiction Recovery Programme every month and this number only applies to only those on the rehabilitation programme which runs for four weeks each session,” he explains.

Nyirenda adds that the number of clients who come for the rehabilitation programme at the hospital increases every day with many others on a waiting list.

“Most of these clients are assisted at our out–patient department and psychosocial centre without being admitted to the hospital for rehabilitation. Some attend our addiction rehabilitation services that run for four weeks,” Nyirenda says.

A recent study report by a 2016 graduating student from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) Chimwemwe Ngoma indicates that over 50 percent of students at Bunda College are involved in drug abuse.

The situation does not only threaten the future of those indulging in the illicit substances but also the country’s image.

Nyirenda says people who abuse alcohol and substances may develop serious health problems like malnutrition, cardiac complications, kidney and liver failure.

“Other health conditions include hypertension and lung cancer; additionally, alcoholics may be susceptible to sexually transmitted infections (STIs),” he says.

In fact, Nyirenda warns that if alcohol and drug abuse is left unchecked, the next generation may end up being illiterate since most of them may drop out of school leading to a vicious cycle of poverty.

“Consequently, the nation may harbor more criminals and high prevalence of HIV and Aids plus other STIs which are directly linked to alcohol and substance abuse,” Nyirenda says.

A Global Drug Report of 2016 says 247 million people in the world used drugs in 2015. Out of them, 29 million suffered from drug use disorders and only one in six people is receiving treatment.

The report also says Africa trailed America in production and consumption of chamba. Precisely, Africa accounted for 14 percent of all illicit herb seizures.

Malawi Police Service Public Relations Officer James Kadadzera says police have seized a lot of chamba on roadblocks as well as in homes through tip offs from well wishers.

He says if not confiscated such chamba most often find its way to teenagers.

Drug Fight Malawi Executive Director Nelson Zakeyu says the increase in alcohol and drug abuse calls for players to collaborate and strategize on how the youths can be bailed out of the situation.

However, Zakeyu whose organization aims at reducing the harm from intake of the illicit substances claims the institution is failing to reach out to many youths due to inadequate funds.

“Financial problem in the control of drugs and substances is an issue because drug abuse is never mentioned in government development strategies such as the Malawi Growth Development Strategy.

This, as a result, limits development partners to come in with their support.

“Despite the challenges, Drug Fight Malawi is working tirelessly to mobilize resources that would help in reaching out to the youths with evidence–based information on the dangers of marijuana, alcohol and other habit–forming drugs,” he adds.

Again, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as Sustainable Development Goal 3 advocates for good health for all people and calls for prevention and treatment of substance and alcohol abuse cases.

It is against this backdrop, therefore, that the Drug Fight Malawi draws its inspiration. Policy makers in government will now start aligning various developmental strategies to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Indeed, in respect to the Sustainable Development Goal 3, Malawi Government recently launched the National Alcohol Policy whose primary objective is to ensure reduced consumption of alcohol through sound regulations.

On their part, the police say they have embarked on an outreach programme to teach and sensitize the youth on the dangers of alcohol abuse and chamba smoking.

“It is a known fact that most of the crimes that are alcohol and marijuana related involve teenagers and those in their early 20s.

“We have a special programme to help the youth not to be in conflict with the law because of alcohol and drug abuse,” Kadadzera says.

Senior Chief Kachindamoto of Dedza, popular for dissolving over 850 child marriages in her area, has since called for a ban on spirits production and selling in the country.

“I am always dismayed to see young people who drink spirits because it is affecting their health. Evidently, most of them now have deformed faces because of the spirits,” she bemoans.

The hard-line Ngoni chief, therefore, calls on government to punish companies that continue to produce such spirits saying they were killing the country’s future that lies in today’s youths.

So, true to Kachindamoto’s assertions, it is not the responsibility of government only but every Malawian to ensure that the country’s young generation is protected from the jaws of alcohol and habit-forming drugs.

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Concerned Expat
Concerned Expat
6 years ago

This is a stupid article. Malawian parents and leaders should warn their children about the dangers of substance abuse at a young age and not try to ban something as trivial as alcohol production. Research has chosen that outlawing something makes it more appealing to people. God, I can’t wait until this nation gets new leaders that have a fresh outlook on life and these idiots get out of here

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