Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital recently had to refuse a patient due to limited space, as stated by a senior government official. Dr. Henry G. Mwebesa, the director general of Health Services at the Ministry of Health, shared that many patients suffer from mental illnesses caused by alcohol abuse.
He mentioned, “Recently, I tried to get space for a friend in the alcohol and drug unit, but I was told ‘we have no space.’ The place was too full, and I had to leave. You can see how the burden is.”
Dr. Mwebesa made these remarks at a press conference organized by the Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance (UAPA) at Parliament to commemorate World Alcohol Free Day. He emphasized the need to address alcohol and drug abuse to relieve the pressure on hospitals.
Dr. Mwebesa noted that a 2020 household survey conducted by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics revealed that Karamoja had the highest alcohol consumption rate at 48 percent. He also mentioned that alcohol and drug abuse contribute to road accidents, domestic violence, poverty, and non-communicable diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Mr. Grace Bikumbi, a clinical psychologist at Butabika Hospital, explained that the hospital is struggling to accommodate about 1,000 patients. Currently, a hospital designed for 550 beds is housing around 1,000 patients, with 40 percent of them suffering from alcohol and drug abuse.
Mr. Bikumbi highlighted that young people between 18 and 25 constitute approximately 90 percent of patients with mental illnesses at the hospital. The alcohol and drug unit admits at least five new patients daily.
To tackle alcohol-related issues, Dr. Mwebesa mentioned measures taken by the government, including the enactment of the National Alcohol Control Policy in 2019 and the ban on small alcohol sachets in 2018. He also mentioned the drafting of the National Alcohol Control Bill.
Ms. Juliet Namukasa, the chairperson of Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance (UAPA), urged the government to expedite the enactment of the National Alcohol Control Bill into law.
Mr. Geoffrey Macho, the chairperson of Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health and an MP for Busia Municipality, emphasized the need for regular inspections by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics to crack down on those selling adulterated alcohol.
He also suggested that local governments should create bylaws and ordinances to regulate alcohol consumption.
Ms. Sarah Opendi, the Tororo District Woman MP, called for responsible alcohol consumption and government licensing of alcohol businesses. She revealed that about 65 percent of alcohol in Uganda is not licensed.
Regarding a private member’s National Alcohol Control Bill, Ms. Opendi stated that stakeholder consultations were complete, and the bill would soon be presented in Parliament.
Statistics show that in 2014, 26.8 percent of the population were alcohol users, with heavy episodic drinking more common among young people aged 15 to 19, particularly males. According to the 2018 World Health Organisation’s Status report on alcohol and health, Uganda’s Alcohol Per Capita Consumption (APC) stood at 9.4 litres, with a higher APC of 25.8 litres observed among drinkers aged 15 and above.