The data behind South Africa’s decision to reinstate the alcohol ban

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has explained the data that was used by government to justify its ban on alcohol in South Africa.

Speaking during a briefing on Monday 13 July, Mkhize cited data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which shows that 31% of South Africans aged 15 or older are believed to be drinkers – which is defined as having consumed alcohol in the past 12 months.

While this proportion is fairly low, Mkhize further highlighted that the average South African drinker consumes 64.6g of absolute alcohol per day – or about 5-6 drinks of 12g absolute alcohol content – as opposed to the afro-region average of about 40g.

Mkhize also said that almost 6 out of 10 South African drinkers are binge drinkers – which poses significant risk for the national health system given the current situation.

Increase in alcohol-related trauma cases

Mkhize noted that the country’s alcohol ban is therefore premised upon reducing the number of alcohol-related trauma cases.

“When we look at the end of the day, it is more about limiting the damage each particular set of circumstances tends to create,” said Mhize.

“It would be inexcusable to end up with beds blocked by something that is completely preventable and avoidable as the consumption of alcohol.”

He noted data previously reported on by the Sunday Times by Perry and others that during stages 4 and 5 of the lockdown, trauma admissions decreased by 70% at Western Cape and Gauteng hospitals.

However, since the lockdown has been lifted, it has seen a 60% increase in trauma admissions, as well as a 200% increase in ICU-level trauma admissions.

Mkhize added that modelling has been done to predict what effect the ban would have on the health system.

It found that the ban would result in a 20% reduction in all trauma cases, including a 40% decrease in alcohol-related trauma cases, by the third week of the ban.

“We plead for understanding and patience as we try to navigate through a very difficult time,” said Mkhize.

Balancing lives and livelihoods

Earlier today, Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma explained the reasons behind several of South Africa’s new lockdown regulations, including the ban on alcohol.

She acknowledged that South Africa previously opened up various sectors of the economy as the number of cases continued to increase.

“We were forced to do that because of our unique situation where we had to balance saving lives and saving livelihoods,” Dlamini-Zuma said.

“We have allowed a lot of economic activities precisely for that balance.”

However, she noted that the difference between alcohol sales and other industries is that those drinking alcohol increase the pressure on hospitals.

“When people are drinking in groups, they let their guard down,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

She noted that alcohol consumption often results in people not wearing masks, social distancing, or sanitising.

“When people have taken liquor, they get drunk – some become violent, start fighting, killing each other, or even at home they become violent,” she added.

She noted that these people then have to be rushed to hospital which results in them taking up a bed which should be used to treat those who are seriously ill with COVID-19.

Now read: New level 3 lockdown rules and the penalties for breaking them

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The data behind South Africa’s decision to reinstate the alcohol ban