EDITORâ€”The death toll caused by contaminated waragi has gone beyond 30 while 20 people have gone blind! This has gone on for a long time in a short period and I keep thinking what the role of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is.
We all now know that the deaths are caused by ethanol that has been adulterated with methanol from the industrial suppliers, to increase the waragiâ€™s potency.
If this were waragi distilled secretly in households, I would have pointed to the fact that people ought to stay away from such spirits and that local councils should increase awareness among the people in their localities. But it was clearly reported that the waragi is sold in sachets.
Although the trade minister, Kahinda Otafiire, denies it, that fact indicates some level of organisation and means that the manufacturer and distributors are known. Have the manufacturers yet been arrested or queried? It is imperative to prevent such unnecessary deaths. Alcohol is an addictive drug and thus there is a higher tendency for people to consume more than less. This is a worldwide problem and not only in Uganda.
If the UNBS is not well supervised or not doing its work well, I wonder if it is not possible to set up a private official bureau of standards to do some better work. How come the stories of deaths caused by contaminated waragi never cease? If the cause is industrial methanol, why donâ€™t we have all users of industrial methanol registered, licensed and sales regulated?
Do we not know where it comes from? Why donâ€™t we have all manufacturers of waragi regulated? Is household production of alcohol legal? If you go to Kibaale, there are so many people openly distilling waragi. Is this permitted? If not, why are they not being apprehended and if yes, are they registered or monitored?
To curb all this, all household distillers must be apprehended to show an example to the rest. All small waragi producers must be registered and standardised in terms of sanitation and production equipment. Poor distillation may also result in methanol. All industrial methanol imported into the country must be accounted for. And we still cannot neglect the effect of public awareness, which should include how to recognise and treat early poisoning of methanol.
If these people had probably known that ethanol (also available in plenty) is a good antidote for methanol poisoning, they would have at least just stopped at being blind or half-blind and not died. We already have the unenviable record for being the largest consumers of alcohol per capita in the world. At least, if we must, let us consume it safely.
Faculty of Technology Makerere University
Standardise waragi production