Alcohol: About 70 percent of domestic violence incidents were committed under the influence of alcohol, according to RENEW reports.

Deputy chief programme officer with the health ministry’s public health department, Mindu Dorji, said that alcoholism and adultery are the reasons for the increasing trend of matrimonial court cases.

“Consumption of alcohol is widely accepted and is ingrained in the Bhutanese society and culture,” he said.

Records with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) and the forensic unit of the national referral hospital show an increase in alcohol-related cases of domestic violence.

Mindu Dorji said that alcohol use is also a predisposing factor for teenage pregnancy because of its negative effect on negotiation skills and use of contraception. Teenage pregnancy that occurs predominantly among rural women accounts for 11 percent of all births in Bhutan.

According to the national nutrition survey 2015, about 15.9 percent of pregnant women consume alcohol, which results in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in their children.

“Alcohol can also aggravate the HIV/AIDS epidemic by its negative influence on ability to have safe sex,” he said. “The continuing spread of HIV/AIDS can present a serious obstacle to Bhutan’s development as more than 60 percent of the country’s population is less than 25 years of age.”

An assessment of five-year suicide rates from 2009 to 13 in Bhutan revealed that the increase in suicide cases in the country is associated to alcohol use and seven percent of road traffic accidents in Bhutan were attributed to drink driving.

Reports with the RBP show that alcohol use contributed to homicides and the increase in crime committed by adolescents in urban areas. However, there has been a five percent reduction in alcohol-related crime in the country from 2012 to 2014.

Mindu Dorji said that alcoholic liver disease is the leading cause of death in Bhutan’s health facilities.

The per capita alcohol consumption among Bhutanese adults (above age 15) is 8.47 litres while the global consumption is 6.2 litres. Every 2 in 5 people currently drink alcohol, and among them, 1 in 5 engage in heavy episodic drinking, which is more than six drinks on any occasion.

Mindu Dorji said: “The prevalence of alcohol consumption is increasing and poses a serious threat to our collective wellbeing.”

Homebrewed and industrial distilled alcohol are the two common sources of alcohol products in the country. Mindu Dorji said that industrial alcohol is quickly penetrating the rural areas as a consequence of the alcohol industry’s effective marketing and distribution system.

There are a total of 5,407 licensed outlets including retail, wholesale and bars in the country, which translates to one outlet for every 98 Bhutanese above the age of 15.

Thimphu alone has 944 outlets, the highest in the country, followed by Chukha and Sarpang with 623 and 470 respectively. The small dzongkhags like Haa and Gasa also have more than 50 licensed outlets.

According to a health facility report, alcohol-related mortality and morbidity have steadily increased over the past decade. The national referral hospital has recorded a fourfold increase in admission for alcohol dependence.

Last year, cases of alcohol liver diseases was 3,134 with 158 deaths while in 2011, there were 2,050 cases with 169 deaths, In 2013, there was 2,631 alcohol liver diseases cases in the country and 129 deaths.

Alcohol liver diseases caused the highest mortality in the country, last year.

The National Policy and Strategic Framework To Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol (2015-2020) states that the annual hospital treatment cost of alcoholism alone was estimated at Nu 29 to 30 million during the period 2005 to 2009.

Mindu Dorji said that economic returns from alcohol is approximately Nu 1 billion that is one percent of the gross domestic product while the economic burden could approximately amount to Nu 5 billion in 2014 due to excessive alcohol consumption including loss of productivity, premature death, damaged property and forgone income among others.

To improve health, social and economic conditions in Bhutan by preventing and reducing the harmful use of alcohol, the Cabinet endorsed the National Policy and Strategic Framework To Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol (2015-2020) last year.

The framework is aimed at reducing morbidity and mortality by 50 percent and reducing social problems by five percent from harmful use of alcohol by the end of 2020.

It is also aimed to strengthen enforcement of existing alcohol policies and legal provisions and to empower communities to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

During the two-day national symposium to observe the international day for elimination of violence against women in Thimphu that ended yesterday, officials with RENEW, RBP, health ministry and the judiciary, among others, talked on the policies the respective agencies have in place to respond and prevent violence against women in the country.

Dechen Tshomo