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Health Ministry moves to implement drinking age from 18 to 21

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Ministry of Health is embarking on the implementation of the Alcohol policy.

The policy was passed by the Cabinet in November 2019 but it has never been implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy calls for measures to control the consumption and sale of alcohol.

For instance, the policy calls for increasing the legal drinking age to 21 from the current 18, designating sell of alcoholic beverages to licensed establishments and allocating drinking hours.

This move is part of the proposed alcohol policy. The policy is supposed to reduce the use of alcohol in the country. Health officials believe if implemented, the policy can guide the development of interventions to ensure safe production, sale, consumption and management of alcohol-related problems or conditions.

The Assistant Commissioner in charge of Mental Health at the Ministry of Health, Dr Hafsa Lukwata says they have been working to sensitize stakeholders about the policy.

“The policy was passed just before COVID-19 struck and we all know what happened in 2020. All attention was focussed on addressing COVID-19 but now that things are going down, we have been focussing on the policy and are targeting different communities to tell them about the policy,” Dr Lukwata said.

Data from the health ministry shows that the use of alcohol starts as early as 14 years when teenagers use alcohol in some parts of the country, especially areas where sugarcane production is carried out.

As a result, they say many of the children who use alcohol at an early age become addicted to it and later succumb to preventable diseases such as kidney or liver failure.

Dr Lukwata says the policy is a wholesome solution to the drinking problem in the country.

According to the health ministry, on average persons aged 15 and above consume 9.8 litres of alcohol a year. This is 3.6 litres more compared to the African continent average consumption which stands at 6 litres.

While the health ministry moves to implement the policy, it might take years for this policy to fully be adopted into society.  Dr Lukwata says the policy to have any long-lasting effects on the drinking problem in the country, needs to be backed up by law.

“Right now we have a policy that we hope can make it to parliament one day and be passed into law. However, even then, we shall need to have adequate financing to make sure that what is passed is implemented,” she said.

Dr David Kalema, the chairperson of the Uganda Alcohol Alliance and the Executive Director of Hope and Beyond Rehabilitation Center says they are working towards sensitizing the public and members of parliament about the policy.

“We have a very big underage drinking problem in this country that is leading to kidney and even liver-related illnesses. This policy can put a stop to this but we need lawmakers to know about it. So we have been carrying out several engagements to sensitize lawmakers on the health committee about the policy,” he said.

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