Ministry of Health Calls for Higher Alcohol Taxes to Combat Mental Health Issues in Uganda

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The Ministry of Health has called on Parliament to augment taxes on alcohol in a bid to address the escalating problem of alcoholism and its associated mental health issues in Uganda.

Dr. Hafsa Lukwata, the Head of the Mental Health Division at the Ministry of Health, spearheaded the appeal during a recent engagement with MPs on Friday, April 4, 2024 where they were discussing proposals for the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023.

Dr. Lukwata emphasized the need to make alcohol less accessible throughout the country and discouraged the use of alcohol as a campaigning tool during political elections. She stressed that if individuals do not begin consuming alcohol by the age of 21, the likelihood of them starting later diminishes significantly. Lukwata urged parents to avoid normalizing alcohol consumption within their households.

“The availability of alcohol is one of our biggest challenges. It is easily obtainable and consumed by everyone, at any time,” voiced Lukwata. “We need to increase taxes to drive up prices, making it less affordable for everyone. Let us reserve these products for those who are already addicted and the wealthy. Ideally, those who can afford alcohol should also be able to buy books and cover their medical expenses while the individuals consuming these alcohol products cannot even provide basic necessities for their children or seek appropriate medical attention,” she emphasized.

This call for increased taxes on alcohol aligns with the recommendation made by the Health Committee to increase taxes on harmful substances, including alcohol and tobacco, by 20%. The proposed tax hike aims to bridge the funding gap anticipated due to decreased support from international donors.

Susan Amero, the District Woman MP for Amuru, supported the proposal to increase alcohol taxes. However, she raised concerns about the rampant corruption within the government and the mismanagement of tax revenues. Amero emphasized the importance of ensuring that revenue generated from alcohol taxes is utilized to improve public services.

“While I agree that we should impose taxes to deter excessive alcohol consumption, we must address the corruption issues plaguing our government. In countries like Singapore, higher alcohol taxes have proven effective in reducing alcohol consumption, but we must also witness improvements in public services,” noted Amero. She further stressed the need to regulate informal alcohol brewers, who flood the market with unlicensed and untaxed products.

Amero expressed her desire to combat the prevalence of illicit alcohol production, particularly within remote areas where homemade alcohol is commonly consumed.

“It is essential that we tackle informal alcohol production. Although some of us may owe our positions to the revenue generated by the alcohol industry, we should not overlook the informal cottage industries operating within our villages. Every household seems to be distilling waragi and malwa. How do we address these issues? We must crack down on unlicensed brewers and implement appropriate regulations,” Amero affirmed.

As the proposal to increase alcohol taxes gains traction within Parliament, stakeholders are hopeful that this initiative will contribute to reducing alcohol consumption and the detrimental effects associated with it.

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