Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When voices speak out, change takes place.

Author: Belinda Chimombo – Creative Assistant for LEFAM Bridge Project, ADRA Denmark, DANIDA

When we agreed to address the issue of alcohol abuse on our weekly radio program, Zatonse, little did we know the effects and impact it would bring. Zatonse is a weekly interactive advocacy program which is aired on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) radio once every Sunday. This program discusses issues pertaining to health, human rights, food security, nutrition, gender and women empowerment, capacity building, water and sanitation and other relevant issues affecting the nation.

For some time the media and nation at large have been discussing the issue of alcohol abuse which is largely affecting our young people. Some media reports have indicated that several youth have died due to alcohol abuse, while others experience severe stomach swelling and the vomiting up of blood. The main reason for the severity of the alcohol problem is that, the alcohol sold in 30ml sachets are readily available and very cheap to buy, some only costing MK 10.00, which is less than 1 US dollar.

ADRA Malawi, concerned by the impact of alcohol abuse particularly by young people, dared to address the hazardous consequences of alcohol abuse. However, before airing the debate, we addressed the issue to relevant stakeholders such as: the Trade and Industry Ministry, the Malawi Bureau of Standards, the Consumer Association of Malawi, our City Assembly, the Ministry of Health (through the central hospitals), youth and members of the community who we felt had a role to play in discussing this issue and coming up with possible solutions.

For three weeks in June ADRA Malawi discussed and debated this issue on radio, focusing particularly on spirit sachets which have flooded the country and cheaply in public places or unauthorized places for selling alcoholic drinks, enticing even children to have easy access to them.

The first week we received feed back from our listeners, and conducted focus group discussion with the youth and community members, on how they felt about the issue and what they thought could be done.

In the second week we engaged a Medical Doctor and a delegate from Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA). The Medical Doctor sensitized the listeners on the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, especially concerning spirits, which has a higher alcohol percentage. The representative of CAMA spoke about the role they play in guarding consumer rights.

Much as we had tried to involve these stakeholders in our second program, one pertinent stakeholder, the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) refused to be involved, even though many listeners indicated that the MBS should be considered responsible for the flooding of the sachets into Malawi. This is because they are in charge of qualifying the quality and standards of any product in Malawi.
Although the MBS had refused to take part in the second program, pressure was mounting on them and after the second radio program, news broke that they had closed one of the unregistered manufactures. After testing, the Malawi Bureau of Standards had discovered that the manufacturing company had been using ethanol, a product of petrol or mentholated spirits, not ideal for human consumption. This was a very positive outcome for ADRA Malawi and the nation.

Apart from the closure of the factory, ADRA Malawi also noticed that key stakeholders were starting to treat this issue with greater interest. Actions initiated as a result of their interest include, the public sensitization of consumer and producer rights, both on radio and television and parliamentary discussions on the passing of a law to force punishment on those that are producing and selling these alcoholic beverages to minors. If it is passed the law will also make it illegal for minors to consume alcohol and for unlicensed places to be selling alcohol.

ADRA Malawi became the initiator of change. This success acts as an encouragement to everyone that when voices speak out, change will take place.

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