Dar es Salaam. Researchers have warned of health risks emanating from high levels of an alcoholic substance, known as ethanol, that was found to be present in local brew.
In a study published last Sunday in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the researchers called for interventions to help reduce the consumption of local brew in Mwanza Region, where it is very popular.
But a significant number of people across the country face health risks, disorders associated with drinking local brews, according to the study titled ‘Ethanol Concentration of Traditional Alcoholic Beverages in Northern Tanzania’.
“We found that traditional beers had ethanol concentrations ranging from 2 to 8 per cent v/v (by volume). Most had concentrations of above 4 per cent v/v, and the local distilled spirits had the highest concentration, up to 55 per cent v/v,” reads part of the study.
It was collaboratively carried out by researchers from the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA), Mwanza Intervention Trials Unit (MITU) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Dr Joel Francis, the lead researcher, told The Citizen that 30 per cent of the total alcohol consumption from traditional brews goes unrecorded in Mwanza, warning that “…30 per cent is an approximation, it could be higher than this”.
Across the country, local brews provide much-needed income for poor families. They are also used during traditional ceremonies such as pouring libation, weddings and funerals.
However, experts warn that if not brewed properly, the beverages can be dangerous and in Tanzania, there have been reported cases of people who died after drinking some of the spirits.
There are short-term psychological effects related to drinking the brews that must be addressed, and other studies had warned that consuming high amounts of alcohol increases the risk of developing alcoholism and alcoholic liver disease.
Dr Francis now says that before any interventions can be taken by health stakeholders or the government, it was important to quantify the levels of alcohol in seven forms of local brews popular to the local consumers as Gongo(type1), Gongo(type2), Komoni, Kangara, Mbege, Kindi and Waini.
“…it’s important to know what they (local brew drinkers) actually consume in terms of total amount of alcohol,’’ he told The Citizen yesterday.
Dr Francis said although the study targeted Mwanza, the findings that are specific to the region were for brews such as Kindi, Komoni and Waini. But, he noted, “…these (findings) could be translated to traditional brew in other settings processed in a similar way. For spirits and Mbege that is universally (used).”
However, the study did not go further to identify other toxic substances in the beverages, which could be harmful to people’s health, such as methanol, aflatoxins or high concentration of ionized iron.
“Our study had some limitations. We focused on ethanol content and did not conduct an analysis of other ingredients… and that may present a major health risk in their own right,” reads the study.
Dr Francis said: “The impact of aflatoxin and other impurities are significant and very detrimental. We had limited funding and also other studies have looked into that.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, the annual consumption of pure alcohol has been estimated to range from 4.9 L to 7.1 L per capita, although intake is likely to be significantly higher because of the unrecorded consumption of traditionally produced beverages, according to the 2014 report by World Health Organisation (WHO).