Alcohol is bad. This was pronounced centuries ago by none other than Lord Buddha. The Buddha’s teachings on alcohol is clear. He said that alcohol causes heedlessness and if any Buddhists succumb to the lure of intoxicating drinks, they shall not consider him as a teacher.
Going by what the lord said, most of us are bad Buddhists. And this is evident in the figures. Alcohol is not only the source of social problems, it is, to repeat once again, the biggest killer in the country. Alcohol related diseases has killed 170 people in the last year. 2020 was a year of Covid-19 pandemic where, around the world hundreds of thousands of people succumbed to the viral disease. In Bhutan, fortunately, only three people died of coronavirus or died because of preconditions after contracting the disease.
While there was a national focus on preventing Covid-19 from becoming a full blown outbreak risking lives of Bhutanese, ALD had silently killed 170 people, 40 more lives than the previous year. ALD is on the rise every year and we have failed to intervene.
That alcohol is bad, it is killing people and becoming a burden on the free health service has been recognised years ago. Yet we have not been able to do anything. In the meantime, the only visible development is that we are pampered for choices. There are reports on alcohol and its impact. Even as we read and analyse the annual reports, we see new bars opening, new brands of alcohol reaching the shelves of groceries, bars and restaurants. Alcohol as a grocery item happens only in Bhutan.
There are no policy interventions. Nobody is taking the responsibility or accountability. There are no bold policies. Without effective policies, market forces will determine what quality or quantity of alcohol we make available for Bhutanese. The latter had taken over. As if what we are producing is not enough, we import alcohol from as far as Australia and Korea.
Going by the facts – how alcohol is burdening the country and the people – it should receive the highest priority. Beyond the deaths related to ALD, it is also the cause of other deaths whether it is vehicle accidents that claim innocent lives including that of children’s or dismantling the social fabric that we had been proud of, so far.
There will be more reports. The media will cover it, policy makers will be shaken up for a few days and everything will be forgotten after the report. Who will take responsibility and who should be made accountable is not talked about. There is a hope in the present government that is led by a team of medical specialist, surgeons, and public health specialist. If the current government cannot make a bold decision, no governments would do it -whether because of lack of understanding or for political gains.
Alcohol and deaths related to it is the biggest irony. We spend billions treating people of alcohol related problem. It, therefore, becomes the impediment in health resource distribution.
That alcohol is a problem is understood at all levels. What policies or decisions are made depends on politicians. Who will bell the cat is the question.