Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Alcohol remains popular treatment for illnesses in Kenya

20 March 2015, 13:32

Nairobi - Beer for measles or labour pains and even stronger beverages for a simple case of flu: The belief in alcohol-based home remedies remains strong in Kenya, but medical authorities warn that they may do more harm than good.

If her two young sons were to get the measles tomorrow, Margaret Muchori - a registered nurse with more than 10 years experience - would treat them by bathing them in beer.

"You do it in the morning and evening," Muchori says. "My mother told me she did it for about five days and [the rashes] cleared."

Also Read: Health benefits of moderate drinking overrated?

The middle-aged woman goes for regular checkups with her family doctor and updates her vaccines, but in the case of measles, she says she would turn to muratina, a type of beer made by her Kikuyu ethnic group from a local fruit of the same name.

A 2012 study published by the African Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics says that traditional medicine using herbs and alcohol is still widely practiced in Kenya, and according to Muchori, every tribe has its own traditional remedies.

More harmful than therapeutic

But some of the alcohol-based home treatments may be more harmful than therapeutic.

A potent alcoholic drink known as chang'aa - distilled from millet, maize and sorghum - is sometimes used to treat malaria, flu, parasites and typhoid in Kenya.

Chang'aa - a name that means "kill me quick" in Swahili - contains methyl alcohol, which can cause blindness and even death when consumed in large quantities.

Also Read:Alcohol ads on TV affect kids' drinking behaviour

The risks do not deter Jane Odinga, a grandmother living in the Kibera slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. She says she recently gave chang'aa to her 9-month-old granddaughter to cure a stubborn case of the flu.

"A long time ago there were no hospitals, so one of the things used as medicine was alcohol," says Odinga.

Other alcohol-based treatments include drinking beer while pregnant, which is believed to reduce labour pains.

Moderate alcohol consumption has been long thought to have health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a 2011 study based on medical literature by Harvard Medical School and two other research institutes.

Highest alcohol consumption

But alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, can impair brain function in the short term and weaken the immune system in the long term, according to the US National Institute of Alcohol Abuse.

Rather than curing an ailment, alcohol may only relieve symptoms by helping the patient feel them less acutely, says doctor Harrison Kiambati, a senior official with Kenya's ministry of medical Services.

Suppressing the symptoms can be harmful because it gives the patient time to develop complications, Kiambati added.

Also Read: How drinking can be good for your heart

Acording to Kenya's National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the country, posing a risks to the population through excessive consumption and the adulteration of illicit brews.

Though urban Kenyans use alcohol at a higher rate than those who live in rural areas, the Nacada reports that traditional liquor - chang'aa in particular - is still more likely to have been consumed by rural children than urban children.

Kenya's highest alcohol consumption has been reported in Nairobi, where nearly 16% of residents admit to drinking a packaged or legal form alcohol within the last month. According to the Nacada, chang'aa is consumed by roughly 7.2% of Nairobi residents on a regular basis.

Alcohol treatments

There is no information available on how much alcohol use in Kenya is related to treating medical ailments, although Nacada has said that nearly half of respondents in a 2010 survey cited poverty as the reason for drinking.

Kiambati, the ministry official, said he was not aware of alcohol treatments having caused deaths, but added that such treatments were poorly documented.

"As a medical doctor, I would not prescribe something that has not been proven or researched scientifically," Kiambati said.

Many Kenyans ignore such warnings and continue using traditional remedies, which are cheaper and require no travel to medical centres that can be far away, according to the African Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Muchori admits that while she was pregnant, she was tempted to try beer as a remedy for labour pain.

"I nearly took Guinness," she says. "But anything you consume without scientific proof is not good."


Tags kenya alcohol

Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...