My cousin, Lop Nob Tshering, died last week. He was a teacher at Dechenchholing MSS and had barely turned 45. He died at home, suddenly. Family and friends all agree that he died because of alcohol – he was a chronic alcoholic.
No one knows how many people die at home from alcohol related problems. My cousin lived in Thimphu. And yet he died suddenly and at home. Imagine what happens outside Thimphu. Imagine the number of alcohol related deaths that go undetected. That number must surely be much higher than the number of people dying because of alcohol in our hospitals.
And how many people die in our hospitals? In the last four years 606 patients were admitted to the JDWNR Hospital with alcohol related illnesses. 138 of them died there; they never recovered. For many years now, the leading cause of death in the hospital has been alcohol related illnesses.
But of the patients who recovered and were discharged from the hospital, some would have started drinking heavily again, become ill and died without going back to hospital. How many? No one knows.
Then there are people like my late cousin. They may or may not have been to hospital, may or may not have been admitted, but eventually die because of alcohol.
The point is this: no one has a clue. Even the numbers reported by the health minister in the National Assembly yesterday is very different from the information I got from JDWNRH. He reported that of the 1471 people were admitted to JDWNRH in 2007 of alcohol related diseases, 98 of them died. JDWNRH told me that the numbers for 2007 were 167 and 37 respectively.
So first things first: we need reliable data. We need to know how many people are alcoholics; how many have died; the costs, in free medical services, to the government; and the costs to society and the economy. We also need to know why, when and how so many of us become dangerously alcoholic.
Only when we know and accept the gravity of the situation will we be able to formulate clear policies and workable strategies to reduce alcoholism among us.
Then we can get down to the serious business of implementing the policies. And for that here’s good advice from Aum Zekom: “What works is a strong teamwork between concerned public agencies and citizen’s social organizations, supported by compassionate society, and led by a strong political leadership who champions the cause.”
Today’s deadly numbers: The photograph is of the JDWNRH medical ward. Of the 27 patients there today, 7 had liver cirrhosis. Of the 9 patients in the cabins, 3 had liver cirrhosis. All of them were caused by chronic alcoholism.