At least 53 people are still being treated in Machakos District Hospital, 60km southwest of Nairobi, and nine others have been transferred to the capital’s Kenyatta National Hospital in critical condition, district medical officer Wako Dulacha said on Sunday.
Police said the adulterated liquor, called “chang’aa” was consumed in massive quantities in the trading post of Makutano, about 30km south of Nairobi. They were still searching for the owner of the bar, who had gone missing.
“According to the clinical behaviour of patients, this is apparently methanol poisoning, but we have handed over samples of the drink to the government chemist for scientific testing,” the medical officer said.
Methanol is used in industry as a solvent or anti-freeze.
“According to the clinical behaviour of patients, this is apparently methanol poisoning”
Although the unlicensed manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol is illegal in Kenya, the chang’aa trade is widespread, because the drink, at about 10 US cents a shot, offers a much cheaper way of getting drunk than highly taxed legal beers and spirits.
In 2000, at least 134 people had died and dozens gone blind while hundreds of others were admitted to hospital after drinking poisonous alcohol in the slums of the capital.
Several locally distilled cheap liquors were banned in 1998 after parliament passed a bill calling on the government to outlaw them; but the chang’aa trade is believed to be so lucrative that regular police raids and arrests of slum bootleggers have failed to curb it.
In 1996, Kenya Breweries launched a low-priced un-malted beer, known as Citizen to discourage people from drinking un-wholesome alcohol.
But the cost of the beer, 65 shillings (0.80 dollars) for a half-litre bottle, is still prohibitive for the majority of Kenyans, where per capita annual income is estimated at $280, and where half of the population of 32 million lives in absolute poverty.
Kenyan brewers, who claim that duties on beer are exorbitant, have in the past appealed to the government to lower duties so as to improve sales and lure people away from dangerous alcohols.