Health Network Sierra Leone (HN-SL), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, on Monday 2nd October 2023 observed the 10th World No Alcohol Day at the Bank of Sierra Leone Complex, Kingtom in Freetown on the theme, ‘Reduce Alcohol and Reject Harmful Drug and Substance for Better Society- Place a Ban on Kush Trafficking/Consumption and the Misuse of Alcohol.’
The chairman of the program, Mr. Ibrahim Kamara, founder and Executive Director of Direct Respond, recalled 2008 when the Government of India proposed to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) for the world to desist from drinking alcohol for a day and that 193 countries in the world signed the declaration.
He went on to inform that the day was chosen in honor of the former Prime Minister of India, Mahata Gandi who was born in October 1869, lamented that according to the WHO, 3 million people die yearly of alcohol-related illnesses, that most accidents in Sierra Leone (80%) are related to alcohol and other drugs, that over 200 illnesses are caused by alcohol and affirmed that HN-SL is a household name in the country.
In his keynote address, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mr. David Banya asserted that the use of drugs has become problematic in the country due to poverty, unemployment and other socio-economic factors, that the menace affects all sectors in society, that most of those who visit the Mental Home at Kissy for alcohol abuse are between the ages of 15-65 and underscored that the Ministry has made tremendous efforts to reduce drug abuse in the country.
According to Mr. David Banya, government needs revenue to develop the country for which they have registered 29 companies some of which locally manufacture alcohol and observed that alcohol is now available in schools and institutions of higher learning.
In his speech, the Executive Director of HN-SL, Mr. Robert Kondima Kargbo revealed that this year’s commemoration is witnessed by an upsurge in the consumption of the narcotic Kush by the country’s youthful population that has posed a lot of social and health challenges in the country.
He continued that the theme for this year’s commemoration is therefore based on the reduction of alcohol consumption and the eradication of harmful drugs like Kush in the country and furthered that they are using this year as a platform to unequivocally call for the ban on the synthetic drug Kush (K2) Tracking Consumption and the Misuse of Alcohol.
According to Mr. Robert Kondima Kargbo, these synthetic drugs have different side effects than the ones they imitate quoting some few studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse which state that K2 has proven that it bonds very fast and powerful to the brain but that nevertheless each batch of spice can have different ingredients, making the effects dangerous, unpredictable and different every time.
He went on to disclose that in the long term, young people using mind-altering drugs is especially concerning because brains are still developing in humans until 25, that habitual use of K2/Kush could serve long-term health effects that exacerbate users’ mental illnesses and that long term effects of synthetic drugs include agitation and irritability, confusion, trouble concentrating, hallucinations and violent psychosis.
“Health Network Sierra Leone has been the leading campaigner for the reduction of alcohol contents and its sales since 2013 which resulted to the reduction of percentage in alcohol contents and its sale to persons under 18 years. This activity is therefore an integral part of our mission in the fight against drug abuse in the country. We are therefore using this platform to urge government to place a ban on the menace and put structures in place for the short and long term effects for those that are already affected,” the Executive Director of HN-SL underscored.
Representatives of other organizations like the Sierra Leone Standards Bureau, Pharmacy Board of Sierra Leone, WHO, the Freetown City Council and Civil Society Organizations made similar statements underscoring that most of the producers of alcohol products were absent at the meeting and that there is need for incessant public awareness on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
Others suggested that government must increase taxes on alcohol, enforce laws on drugs and alcohol, call the police on 034204204 for the arrest of Kush dealers, impose Le100 million fine plus two year jail term for dealers, revealed that they have presented a report on how to end the consumption of Kush to the Chief Minister concluding that it is the responsibility of all to help end the menace and assured that government is working assiduously to reduce the importation of drugs into the country.
Participants also highlighted that the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has developed a five-year strategic plan in addition to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and partners that have also developed a National Alcohol Policy to end the menace reminding all that it is an offence to deal in drugs.
Highlights of the well-attended event were musical performance by the National Disability Artists Union on the dangers of Kush and interactive discussions by participants.
The Executive Director of HN-SL, Mr. Robert Kondima Kargbo pledged to sponsor the production of the video of the song.