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Tunisia - Several deaths following adulterated alcohol poisoning in Medenine

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  • Tunisia - Several deaths following adulterated alcohol poisoning in Medenine

    Several deaths following adulterated alcohol poisoning in Medenine: Death on the lips

    By Khalil JELASSIPublished on 01/09/2024

    Another tragedy which calls into question the entire policy of marketing alcoholic beverages, undertaken by the Tunisian state for several decades, without there being the slightest change. However, the dramas follow one another and are similar and always strike the same people. Should we think about introducing more pragmatic reforms?

    This time, adulterated alcohol, widely consumed in Tunisia, caused a tragedy in Medenine where five deaths were recorded until last Sunday, according to a latest report. Likewise, 44 other individuals were hospitalized.

    Two people were arrested in Médenine, announced the General Directorate of the National Guard in a press release. For its part, the public prosecutor ordered the opening of an investigation for “premeditated murder”. The two accused were taken into custody. Saturday January 6, four people died after consuming this artisanal alcohol composed of extremely toxic products and substances.

    In statements to the media, National Guard spokesperson Houssemeddine Jebabli explains that many people are admitted to intensive care, including the father of one of the accused. “One of those warned, accused of manufacturing this toxic substance, claims that his father was one of his clients ,” he explained, adding that investigators made every effort to dismantle this network.

    Analyzes are underway to identify the exact composition of the substance causing this massive poisoning, he further explained. “Of the forty people poisoned, a majority were able to leave the local hospital, but some, more seriously affected, were transferred to hospitals in the capital ,” explains the spokesperson.

    In Tunisia, the consumption of illegal alcohol, manufactured in an artisanal manner, is widespread throughout the country and regularly claims victims. In 2021, five people died, while 25 others were hospitalized, after consuming an adulterated alcoholic substance in the Kasserine region. In May 2020, 39 people were poisoned after consuming methanol, six of whom died near the town of Kairouan.

    Kairouan, a black spot!
    In Kairouan, the only governorate where the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited for religious reasons, young people resort to this type of artisanal and dangerous alcohol. In Tunisia, article 317 of the Penal Code prohibits the sale of alcohol to Muslims. This law is outdated, but the sale of alcohol remains officially prohibited on Fridays, during Ramadan and religious holidays. However, the mere possession of alcohol sometimes leads to arbitrary arrests and police pursuits. This product, although sold in supermarkets, still represents a taboo. Moreover, many working-class neighborhoods, even in Greater Tunis, do not have access to these recognized points of sale, hence the risks of consuming artisanal drinks, the manufacture of which remains accessible, not obeying any standards.

    The recipe for this drink? A mixture of methanol and cheap cologne. The intoxication is immediate, but the consequences are dramatic. Indeed, according to medical sources consulted, adulterated wine can be diluted with other liquids or other unknown materials to increase the quantity of alcohol. This means that the actual alcohol content of the beverage is uncertain. Which increases the risk of poisoning.

    In the south of Tunisia, legmi , this traditional local drink, is also used to produce adulterated wine, by adding methanol or even alcohol stolen from health establishments. Generally speaking, adulterated wines contain ingredients that can trigger allergic reactions or worse. And because they are cheap, the networks of sellers and traffickers are developing at high speed in a context where the purchasing power of residents is low.

    Reviewing the system is necessary

    For sociologists, this type of tragedy finds its origins in the ban on the consumption of alcohol in many areas in Tunisia, accentuated by the absence of legal points of sale. Among them, Mouadh Ben Nessir who recalls that several Tunisian legal provisions prohibit or considerably limit the free consumption of alcoholic beverages even in private spaces. Accusing a state policy based on excessive control and prohibition, the effectiveness of which he questions in combating alcohol consumption, while Tunisians are known to be among the heaviest drinkers globally international.

    “In Tunisia, consuming alcohol is no longer a right, but a favor granted by the State to the extent that the entire system is built on prohibition and authorizations. However, this situation continues to generate drama to the extent that young people fall back on other less expensive alternatives, but certainly far too dangerous ,” he explains to La Presse.

    Indeed, according to our interlocutor, financial conditions are important to understand the origins of the phenomenon of adulterated alcohol consumption. “Although the prices of alcoholic beverages manufactured in Tunisia are reasonable compared to prices throughout the world, they remain high for the purchasing power of Tunisians, in particular the most deprived,” he adds.

    He calls for a review of the entire licensing system which has resulted in certain areas being devoid of legal points of sale, which has accentuated this phenomenon of artisanal alcohol trafficking and pushed some young people into illegality. And the sociologist continues: increasing the number of marketing points for alcoholic beverages is not synonymous with encouraging alcohol consumption, because policies and plans to raise awareness and support young people must follow.

    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela