According to health ministry, alcohol has become the top killer in the country. More than a 100 people die every year due to alcohol-related diseases. The government spends millions of ngultrum to treat patients suffering from alcohol-related diseases and the referral cost is growing by the year. Health records show that in August last year alone, 21 people died due to alcohol-related diseases.
Many studies have been carried out about alcohol and its impact on the society. Reports have been damning. Yet we have not been able to do anything about it. This is because we accept alcohol as vital part of our culture. Even the small hospitals in the country are seeing rise in the number of alcohol-related cases. Health officials now are pointing to the urgent need to control supply and sale of alcohol.
Because we accept alcohol as essential element of our culture, problems related with it are not confined only in certain pockets of the country. A recent RENEW report says that about 70 percent of domestic violence cases in the country are committed under the influence of alcohol.
Banning production and consumption of alcohol may not be possible considering its place in our culture. The sensible thing, therefore, might be to really commit ourselves to controlling it. Our towns and cities have more alcohol outlets than is necessary. There are a total of 5,407 licensed alcohol outlets in the country, which translates to one outlet for every 98 Bhutanese above the age of 15. Thimphu alone has 944 outlets, closely followed by Chukha and Sarpang.
In the rural parts of the country, production and consumption of alcohol is the leading cause of poverty. Families struggle to eke out a decent living because much of what they grow is put almost entirely into brewing Ara, Bangchang, or Singchang. Also now, because of improved connectivity, commercially produced alcoholic drinks have entered our farthest hamlets.
According to a study, per capita alcohol consumption among Bhutanese adults (above the age of 15) is 8.47 litres against global consumption rate 6.2 litres. Two in five Bhutanese currently drink alcohol and one in five engage in heavy ‘episodic drinking’. This is worrying.
There is an urgent need to address alcohol consumption and related issues in the country. We can and must do it because it is health of our society that will ultimately matter. It is time we took the warnings seriously.