Uganda’s current legal regime on alcohol and drug abuse control dates back in 1962 but nothing on this scale has been done to control alcohol use
The executive director of Butabika Hospital, Dr David Basangwa, has called on Parliament to pass the Alcohol Control Bill 2016 to control alcohol and substance abuse blamed for the rising cases of mental illness.
"Mental illness is on the increase and currently we have admitted about 950 patients in a facility that can take only 550 patients comfortably. Unfortunately, 40 per cent of these are due to the use of alcohol and substance abuse. These numbers can be kept low if a law is passed," he said.
Basangwa was meeting the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah, who delivered Easter gifts to Butabika Children's Ward, on Thursday.
In 2016, Mukono Municipality MP, Betty Nambooze sought leave of Parliament to draft the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2016 but the bill failed to gain traction in Parliament.
The proposed law aimed to consolidate all alcoholic-related laws and set tougher sanctions on alcohol consumption by, among others, creating countrywide licensing and regulation committees.
The Bill, for instance, proposed that the sale or consumption of alcohol before 5 pm or after 1 am would become criminal in Uganda, and violators would risk a sh2m fine or a one-year jail term or both, generating mixed reactions including resistance from sections of lawmakers.
Uganda's current legal regime on alcohol and drug abuse control dates back in 1962 but nothing on this scale has been done to control alcohol use except for the piecemeal legislation on alcohol taxation.
On his social media account, Oulanyah posted that, "I saw a number of young people today in Butabika…what is heartbreaking is excessive use/abuse of alcohol/substance by young people to the point of mental breakdown. Laws/regulations such as the Narcotics Act & the mental health bill are meant to help. What else can we do?"
During the visit, Oulanyah applauded the doctors at the hospital for providing care to patients amidst challenges.
"One mentally ill person can disorganize a whole village, but if four nurses can attend to 150 patients, that is a great sacrifice indeed," he said adding that "You have special needs here in terms of the nutrition for the patients, equipment used and medication. My visit today is timely because some issues can be included in the budget."
As much as there are other causes of mental illness, Basangwa noted that people's lifestyles, alcohol and substance abuse were the leading causes of mental illness.
The World Health Organization in 2014 estimated that the per capita consumption of alcohol in Uganda is 9.8 litres, but with a population of 58.7% of abstainers from alcohol use, the total per capita consumption of the alcohol users shows worryingly high consumption levels.
In March 2013, a CNN study ranked Uganda 8th in the world and first on the African continent in liquor intake.
Basangwa used the platform to ask Parliament to increase funding to the facility to be able to recruit more staff to care for patients, some of whom are violent.
"We only have 33 psychiatrists and this number cannot handle this increasing number of patients," he explained.
He also appealed to Parliament to provide more funding targeting training so as to encourage doctors to study psychiatry.
He also said that there was need to open a general clinic in the hospital so as to reduce the stigma of mental illness among the community.
"We do not admit patients with caretakers meaning the nurses have to look after the patients themselves. In a ward of 150 patients there are just four nurses and some of the cases are violent," he said.
The alcohol industry in Uganda is said targets young people through the production and packaging of alcohol sachets in lowest quantities of 30mls and cheap pricing of about Sh200 which makes alcohol very cheap, easy to conceal, and accessible to minors.