Nairobi — Kenyans consume the highest amount of beer in East Africa, but Uganda is tops in the number of informal brew manufacturers.
A new report on alcohol consumption by the World Health Organisation (WHO) says almost half of Kenyan drinkers prefer beer, while their Ugandan and Tanzanian neighbours favour local brews.
About 90 per cent of drinkers across the borders are likely to be taking fermented or distilled alcohol such as waragi, muramba, tonto and other locally-brewed products.
"Many countries recognise the serious public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol. But clearly, much more needs to be done," says Dr Ala Alwan, WHO assistant director-general for non-communicable diseases and mental health.
Dr Alwan was speaking at a meeting in Geneva calling for stricter laws on consumption of alcohol.
Delegates from 100 countries suggested limiting drinking hours and restricting the sale of alcohol to specific days of the week.
The report, Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011, comes at a time when Kenya is effecting laws to check excessive alcohol consumption.
The so-called Mututho rules have started to bite, with manufacturers and bar owners warning of job losses. Things could get worse for drinkers as Kenya signed the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol last May.
The drive calls for an even lower blood alcohol limit for younger and less experienced drivers.
WHO is also rooting for drinks with low alcohol content, especially informal drinks. But the report is not all gloom for industrial alcohol makers. It sets the minimum price per category of alcohol, perhaps to protect multinationals from price wars with brew dealers.
The report says students form a significant portion of those taking alcohol.
About 17 per cent of male students in Kenya and 12 per cent of their female counterparts were found to have taken alcohol 30 days prior to the study.
Similar numbers are true for Uganda and Tanzania but not Sychelles, where more than 60 per cent of students were found to be taking alcohol.
Contrary to popular belief, a majority of Kenyans do not drink, but of those who do, most are heavy drinkers with men beating women by more than two times.