Written by News On Sunday
Alcoholism is becoming a great health concern in Mauritius. More and more people are falling into alcoholism, including women and youngsters. It is a disease that requires treatment and the Ministry of Health is working on a strategy to combat this scourge.
The number of alcoholics in Mauritius continues to rise. Alcoholism is affecting people in all spheres of life and is causing health, mental and social problems.
Dr Vasantrao Gujadhur, Community Physician at the Ministry of Health, says that a person is considered to be alcoholic when he is found to be completely dependent on alcohol. “He has to drink several times during the day to be able to perform his daily routine. He does not feel well without his usual dosage of alcohol and show withdrawal symptoms like shivering, a state of confusion and memory problems,” he explains.
According to the Ministry of Health, 58% of men and 29% of women were consuming alcohol in 2004. In 2009, the figures have gone up, with 65% men and 38% women drinking. An increase has also been noted among youngsters. A study conducted by the Global Based Student Health Survey from 2007 to 2011 shows that the figures have increased from 20.8% to 25.2%.
Change in behaviour
“Alcohol has a direct impact on the brain. It alters the behaviour of the person. For instance, an alcoholic can become aggressive or, on the contrary, isolate himself. An alcoholic is often at risk of having hallucinations which may cause him to fight with his close ones. Moreover, he will often absent himself from work since his priority will be alcohol. He will also be subject to financial problems since most of his money will be spent on alcohol. In young alcoholics, a decline in his school performance can be noted. He will also tend to isolate himself,” remarks Dr Gujadhur.
An array of treatment is offered by the health service to alcoholics: pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy and counselling. Treatments which were only available at Brown Sequard Hospital have now been decentralised, including a detox centre at Flacq Hospital.
Psychiatrists, psychologists and doctors are put at their disposal in all hospitals to take care of them. Afterwards, they are taken care of by NGOs which support them and rehabilitate them.
At Brown Séquard Hospital two wards are reserved for alcoholics in need of detoxification. In 2009, it admitted 2,200 patients for alcohol treatment, that is, more than 50% of the patients admitted to the hospital.
In other hospitals, complications due to alcohol such as gastritis and hepatitis are also increasing. In 2010, 6,884 people were admitted due to complications of alcohol drinking.
Alcoholics are often stigmatised in society and women alcoholics further, says Anabelle Beeharry from Etoile d’Espérance.
“Alcoholic women are often judged and condemned by her surroundings and this hinders her treatment. People should understand that these persons are in despair and they need help. There is no use of adding to that by stigmatising them. On the contrary, we should offer them a helping hand,” she insists.
Étoile d’Espérance is an NGO founded in 1997 which supports women alcoholics, especially during their rehabilitation. The centre offers three services: Day care from 9am to 3pm, residential and aftercare. This allows their rehabilitation within their family and society after their treatment. Women who work can also go there for counselling sessions.
Situated at Moka, it offers free services. A counsellor from the NGO is available every day at Brown Sequard Hospital from 9am to noon and is also accessible on 433 4229.
According to Dr Gujadhur, women being financially more independent can more easily have access to alcohol. Women, he says, look for some consolation in alcohol when they are victims of infidelity of their husbands. “What is worrying is the fact that, contrary to men, women prefer drinking alone. Moreover, they run a higher risk of dependency on alcohol than men due to their physical constitution,” he explains.
Alcoholism causes other health problems: high blood pressure, heart problems (heart disorder), liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, inflammation of the intestine, diabetes, Fœtal Alcohol Syndrome in pregnant women where the baby runs greater risks of malformations. Dr Gujadhur warns people suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes against the risk of complications due to alcohol abuse.
Police can be sollicited by relatives of an alcoholic if the latter shows signs of aggressiveness,” underlines Dr Gujadhur. “If an alcoholic becomes violent, he represents a threat to others and in such cases, we have to call the police to bring him by force to hospital for a detoxification session.” As for alcoholics found lying on the road, the doctor stresses that passers-by should bring him to the hospital.
“We should not forget that alcoholism is first and foremost a disease which requires treatment. Hence, we should keep our judgment to ourselves and restrain from condemning them,” he insists.
The Ministry of Health is currently reviewing everything as far as medical treatment and support to alcoholics is concerned. The hospitalisation protocol of these persons will also be reviewed, says Dr Gujadhur.