The reports are coming one after another that alcohol is taking a toll on our society. Alcohol liver disease (ALD) is still the leading cause of death in the country.
Last year, ALD killed 113 although it was a drop from the previous year, 167. From the figures, it is evident that we have lost our battle and hope against alcohol.
There are many reports and surveys that spell out how alcohol has become a heavy burden on the society. We know the reasons, we have the statistics and we know what can be done.
Alcohol is not a natural disaster. It is man-made, within our control. However, not much is being done. Every time there is a report, media highlight it, officials talk about it – all to be soon forgotten as we move on to another issue.
We know alcohol is cheap, freely available, lucrative for those brewing or importing it, and it is killing a lot of people. It is also costing the government in the billions. It has now become a cliché to say that we have found no solutions to a problem that we long diagnosed. This is a bigger problem than alcohol itself.
The health ministry had been saying, for many years now, that the substantial revenue from the sale of alcohol does not compensate the economic losses incurred as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity and premature deaths. But decisions are skewed towards promoting it than curbing.
So far, the decisions had been in favour of those in the alcohol business, producers, promoters, and decision makers. They have a hand in this, the social ills caused by alcohol. Reports show that alcohol is a problem for Bhutanese as young as five. It is not for anyone’s welfare.
From what is happening, it seems like the health ministry is left to deal with it all alone. It is unfair to leave everything to the ministry or the hospitals. However, if prevention is the best approach, they should fight for reasoned policy balance and priority.
Together with alcohol, lifestyle diseases are burdening our health facilities and the government coffer. If it can be prevented, the focus should be there.
It is said that our health system is now focused toward treatment than prevention. If we can prevent funding one liver transplant, the cost can be diverted to buy essential drugs for a remote BHU. If we can prevent one kidney transplant, the money can be diverted to buy one more dialysis machine.
If the ministry cannot fight to shut or cut down supply of alcohol, make it dearer or restrict access to it. It could then fight for more energy and resources in the prevention sector.
Over 2,500 years ago, Buddha said those who abused alcohol were not his disciples nor he their teacher. What if our free health system, the saviour, starts differentiating among the beneficiaries? What if they start charging people who fall ill from abusing alcohol and suffer alcohol liver diseases?