UGANDA – At least 17 people have perished and several others hospitalized after consuming toxic liquor from a roadside kiosk in Northern Uganda.

According to the Head of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, the victims in the city of Arua had consumed a local gin named City 5 that contained methanol – a poisonous form of alcohol sometimes used as an antifreeze.

The Bureau joined the Uganda Police Force and local authorities to investigate the matter and in particular pick the necessary product Samples of the City 5 Gin for laboratory analysis, in order to ascertain its contents and ingredients therein which could have caused the sudden death of its consumers.

“Based on results from the laboratory analysis, it is clear that the likely cause of death for the people who consumed the City 5 Gin was due to excessive adulteration of the Gin with Methanol which was found to be between 17 to 16,183 times far more higher than the permissible level of 50 miligrams per litre (mg/L) which is specified in the standard for Gin,” David Livingstone Ebiru said.

Methanol is an industrial chemical which is mostly used to create fuel and as a solvent, antifreeze or denaturant for ethanol and in synthesis of other chemicals, plastics, polyesters etc.  Methanol is also commonly used for diluting /dissolving wall paints and wood vanishes.

Unlike ethanol, methanol is poisonous for human consumption since it can easily be absorbed through the eyes, skin, lungs and digestive system with its over exposure causing death.

The deceased, all of them men between the ages of 43 and 53, died either at home or at hospitals.  

“It is likely the perpetrators deliberately and illegally used methanol as a cheaper alternative to increase the potency of the City 5 gin, instead of ethanol which is commonly used in making alcoholic beverages,” Ebiru said.

By the time UNBS Team arrived in Arua City, the Uganda Police Force had already apprehended four Suspects and taken them in to custody at Arua Central Police Station. The suspects included the manufacturers and the person who was selling the City 5 Gin in a particular Kiosk.

Toxic alcohol uncertified

The Uganda Police Force had also picked the sample of the packaged bottles of City 5 Gin from the Kiosk where most of the victims has purchased it from. This led them to the factory where the Gin was suspected to have been manufactured from called Luluwiri Fruit Wine located at Pajulu.

UNBS noted that it had certified Luluwiri Fruit Wine to produce Semi-Sweet Still Table Pineapple Wine after undergoing conformity assessment.

By the time of the incident, the company had not yet received certification for its City 5 Pineapple Flavored Gin. It had earlier submitted applications but failed since the Gin had low alcohol content. As per UNBS standards specifications, the alcoholic content of Gin should be 37.5% by volume.

On inspecting the Luluwiri Fruit Wine Factory, UNBS together with the Uganda Police found forty unmarked drums and eight filled jerrycans all containing alcohol. Eight Samples were therefore picked from this for Laboratory Analysis by UNBS.

UNBS also picked two samples from a nearby facility called Dbtech Enterprises which had also applied for certification of another Gin called A-City and found six unmarked drums containing Alcohol. The regulator had also not yet completed the conformity assessment for this product and is not allowed to be on the market.

According to Josephine Angucia, Police Spokesperson in the West Nile region, both the bar and the factory where the alcohol was made have been sealed. UNBS has now suspended the certification process of products and production facilities of City 5 Gin. 

According to a statement released by the UNBS Executive Director, David Livingstone Ebiru, the Bureau had certified Luluwiri Fruit Wine to produce semi-sweet still Table Pineapple Wine after undergoing conformity assessment.

Uganda has very high alcohol consumption rates, with an estimated 9.5 liters of alcohol consumed per person over 15 years of age, according to PubMed Central.

Many people succumb every year after consuming toxic liquor made in backstreet distilleries, but the deaths usually go unreported. In June 2017, 11 people died in the township of Nansana after consuming toxic gin.

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