By: Mpho Shelile

Throughout the history of Lesotho, alcoholic beverages (traditional beer) have been enjoyed a lot of recognition as drinks that enhance social interactions amongst people, these drinks were prepared for consumption for elders at cultural ceremonies and social events.

But with the passing of time, more and more potent indigenous drinks were introduced, and became quick fixes which are readily available for consumption. The youth then began indulging to lighten the atmosphere and mood at parties or get-togethers. Alcohol plays a huge role in unplanned teenage pregnancies, the impact of alcohol and tobacco on teenage girls and boys is multifaceted, affecting physical health, mental well-being, and social relationships. Early prevention and intervention efforts are essential to mitigate the risks associated with substance use during adolescence.

The secretary general of Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) Mrs. Aadielah Maker-Diedericks stated that tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use among Basotho adolescents has decreased in the last decade, particularly between 2018 and 2021 and following the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, finds which WHO and the government of Lesotho are already working on. “Alcohol is widely used by young people for a range of reasons including; curiosity, experimentation and trying to fit in with a group of friends. While stages of exploration are normal for teenagers, risky drinking can also lead to binge drinking, drunk driving, and unsafe sex.”

In 2001 WHO reported alcohol to be a preferred substance of abuse, with men drinking more than women. In 2005 WHO survey reported that individuals start consuming alcohol from the ages 10 to 14 years. “In Lesotho, understanding the local context, cultural norms, and socio-economic factors is essential for developing effective prevention and intervention strategies tailored to the needs of the youth population. Collaboration between government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and communities is vital in addressing the complex issue of substance abuse among the youth in Lesotho”, she said.

“There are gender differences in alcohol-related mortality and morbidity, as well as levels and patterns of alcohol consumption, the percentage of alcohol attributable deaths among men amounts to 7.7% of all global deaths compared to 2.6% of all deaths among women. Total alcohol per capita consumption in 2016 among male and female drinkers worldwide was at an average of 19.4 litres of pure alcohol for males and 7.0 litres for females. “We should make sure to provide accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol use disorders, and implement screening and briefing intervention programs in health services for hazardous and harmful drinking. I would also urge Lesotho’s government to increase their alcohol levy in order to benefit, not only monetarily but by getting people to reduce their alcohol intake because of the rise in sin tax”, she concluded. 

Mrs Mphonyane Mofokeng the founder and director of Anti-Drug Association of Lesotho (ADAAL), which is a non-profit making organisation which was established in 2002.ADAAL is also Lesotho’s council of non-governmental organizations, and a member of South African Alcohol Policy alliance.  ADAAL works in implementing policies and advising the Ministry of health in making sure that everybody lives well. “The purpose of us gathering here is to create a platform where ADAAL in partnership with SAAPA with the support of non-communicable diseases through the ministry of health, advocate and influence political wing to buy into the tobacco and alcohol act of 2023, because if the alcohol levy was to increase it would help reduce the intake of alcohol among the youth, which will mean less suicide cases, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.”

 “Alcohol levy increasing would reduce the demand for it , as ADAAL we need to make sure that at least 50% of the levy funds collected are available to be utilised for the rehabilitation of addicts”, she concluded.

The Minister of health Honourable Mr. Sedibe Mochoboroane indicated that non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as Mental Health, Cancer, Hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases have a high mortality rate of 63% in Lesotho. The highest risk factors are alcohol use, tobacco, and illicit drugs. So a 20% alcohol levy increase could avoid all that and also avoid 9milllion pre-mature deaths and help increase revenues.  “As the Ministry of Health (MOH) we are concerned with the escalating cases leading to morbidity and mortality in Lesotho. All these are caused by alcohol and tobacco as high-risk factors for NCDs. Suicide, murder cases and violence are also caused by alcohol abuse, illicit drugs and substance abuse.”

The 2023 Alcohol and Tobacco Levy, very well stipulates that it should be used for mitigation of this risk factors:  1) Health Education, 2) Law enforcement services such as Police inspections, cross border surveillance, community outreaches, enforcements; and 3) rehabilitation services.

The MOH has a National Multi sectoral Integrated Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs): 2014-2020 of these silent killers; it is imperative that we work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Alliances that have interest in the prevention of alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse for social resilience and welfare of all Basotho.

“We need to mount prevention and control strategies such as health education, enforcement and outreach programmes with police, the law and enforcement authorities, schools, cross-border controls, chiefs, community counsellors and neighbourhood watches”, he said.

“The administration and management of alcohol and tobacco levy is very important for these enforcement activities to occur. “It was such an honour to be invited to take part in such a huge initiative as the Ministry of Health, to also be a beneficiary of the Levy in a structured, developmental, and sustainable strategy.”

He concluded by adding that with this administration and management attitude, the country will be able to provide services that will reduce the high morbidity and mortality of both NCDs, injuries and mental health as well as bringing about stability and economic gains where Alliances and NGOs like those interested in alcohol and tobacco cessation will be given opportunities through request for proposals to request funding to do developmental work that attracts youth to economic development.