The Problem of Alcohol; a Collective Battle

Rampant consumption of alcohol, along with massive production is found to be one of the causes for poverty, where maximum of grain produce were used in producing alcohol

In 2005, people were in normal disposition when the BBC aired a feature on growing burden of alcohol trends and its related problems in Bhutan. This is because, more recently the report by WHO revealed that Bhutan has the highest alcohol consumption figures in south Asian regions.

Moreover, according to the records maintained by the Health Ministry, alcohol related disease ranked second in inpatient death in the year 2004 to 2008.

Globally, alcoholism is the 3rd killer disease next to heart disease and cancer. WHO report reveals that the harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths every year. The global scenario of alcoholism is no different from Bhutan. Today, alcoholism has crept in as a clandestine problem, where it has affected individual’s health, wealth, happiness and wellbeing of a Bhutanese society. The substantial problems of alcohol divulged by facts and figures of various reports deem Bhutan as a microcosm of alcohol abuse.

The problem of alcohol in Bhutan Alcohol has not only affected urban centers, but also other parts of the country. According to a health survey (MoH) done in eastern Dzongkhags, more than 58 % of the respondents were found to be alcoholics. It also found that 50% of male respondents who were the sole bread earner were alcoholics, which led to many social and economic problems within the family and the community.

According to medical reports, alcohol liver disease was one of the leading causes for mortality from 2006 to 2010. Figures show that deaths due to alcohol liver disease escalated from 92 in 2005 to 169 in 2011, indicating a substantial upsurge from 15.2% to staggering 23%.

RSTA report (2009) indicates that 7% of road traffic accidents in Bhutan are attributed to drunk driving. From 24 motor vehicles accidents, 2004, it increased to 118, 2010. In 2010, the Forensic Unit of JDWNR hospital reported 1,093 cases of domestic violence; majority of cases were correlated to alcohol consumption.

Royal Bhutan Police report shows a rife increase in juvenile crimes, all committed by adolescents, mostly under the influence of alcohol. Similarly, in majority of domestic violence cases reported to RENEW, alcohol abuse was a proximate cause.

The Public Health Department has a huge financial burden in treating an alcoholic patient, where providing medical and health care to one alcoholic patient is around Nu. 120,000. And the cost of current treatment and rehabilitation for one alcoholic for three months is estimated at Nu. 48,000.

 In rural Bhutan, rampant consumption of alcohol, along with massive production is found to be one of the causes for poverty, where maximum of grain produce were used in producing alcohol.

To generate revenue, the Royal Government liberalized sale of alcohol since 1999. There was an unprecedented increase in revenue which reached close to US$ 2.5 million annually. Nonetheless, the overall cost of alcohol related problems was massive, where increased alcohol revenues did not cover it.

After numerous consultative workshops and meetings with stakeholders, the National Policy and Strategy to reduce harmful use of alcohol will be in place after GNHC submits it to the cabinet for endorsement. “Probably, the implementation will start in the 11th five year plan. We have submitted it to GNHC for screening. The cabinet will surely accept it. All the stakeholders have agreed after grueling brainstorming and deliberate consultations,” says a senior MoH official.

According to the Health Ministry’s documents, there are forthcoming future activities that will be implemented cautiously. During 11th FYP, Health Ministry will establish detox and treatment center for alcohol and drug dependence at Gidakom.

Along with training of more health workers, there will be development on Standard Treatment and Counseling Guide for alcoholics. Community Action Programme on reducing harmful use of alcohol will be expanded, and nationwide awareness and advocacy activities will be vigorously enhanced. More importantly, with support from WHO, more operational research and studies will be conducted.

Since WHO endorsed a global strategic call to reduce harmful use of alcohol on all member states, Bhutan maneuvered painstakingly to combat the harmful use of alcohol, which is now gaining ground, and achieving positive result.


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