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Monday, 19 September 2011

Kenyan Illicit Brews: Why the ‘Black-out”….

9 Dead, 10 Others Turned Blind After Consuming Illicit Brew in Kenya

 Banned 'kill-me-quick' home-brew kills and blinds hundreds in Kenya

20 Blind As The Brew Death Toll Rises To 125


 These are just some of the headlines that feature in our local dailies when illicit brews are reported.
Mind boggling, right?

I had always wondered why most of the victims of illicit brew went blind after drinking. Why for instance didn’t they go, deaf, dumb, or even complete lunatic?

After much pondering, consultation with peers and research, I came to know the root cause of this.
I must admit reading the seemingly nerdy material in my research made me reminisce  my High School Chemistry teacher ,Mr Okumu.Teaching chemical bonding during the afternoon double Chemistry lesson:90 minutes-most part of which half the class was dozing after a heavy lunch constituting beans and Ugali !{Madondo power} is not an easy task for the most hardened of teachers. Little wonder some of my colleagues opted to ‘dropping’ the subject for the much favored Biology, I on the other hand soldiered on.

But I digress…yet again...

Any Kenyan reading this is well aware that most of the deaths caused by illicit brews hail from the Central Province of Kenya. Rarely will you hear of such incidences in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley provinces for example. This is because the fermentation of the brew follows the due process without any catalysts. 

The allure of making a quick shilling when the demand is exceeding supply is what deludes these brewers to include Methanol in the recipe.
Effects of illicit brew

Methanol is the killer ingredient in any Taskey, Njamba, Sherehe, Santana Ice, Yokozuna,Flying Horse and Savanna and all manner of names out there for these Kenyan illicit liquors.

Methanol has her soft natured brother called Ethanol.a.k.a .Alcohol. Ethanol is not lethal. As such it is classified as a ‘nervous system, brandy and wine just to mention but a few
Methanol on the other hand is a clearless liquid and is generally NOT consumed as a beverage due to its toxic nature. It is highly flammable and this makes it ideal to be used as a fuel.
Its clearless nature is what makes it ideal to brewers because even the ‘regulars’ will not be able to see the difference in a clear bottle.Hmmm…

If you didn’t know, that windshield cleaning fluid, carburetor cleaner, antifreeze, copier toner, that you usually use but overlook, contains Methanol. How convenient and readily available to your local brewer?Hmmm…

So what does it do in the body to cause blindness,you ask?

Here’s where we get into the Chemistry,pay attention class…

Methanol is easily absorbed by the body through a variety of route of administration (oral, inhalation, topical). In the liver,methanol will be oxidized to formaldehyde (formalin) with the help of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase and then perform further metabolisir the formic acid by formaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme. Changes of formaldehyde into formic acid is very rapid, with half-lives for 1-2 minutes, so not until the accumulation of formaldehyde in the body.

Formic acid is what will cause various toxic effects on the body.

Excretion of methanol from the body is relatively slow, with half-lives (T1 / 2) for 24 hours. Humans are more sensitive to the toxic effects of methanol when compared with non-primate animals. This is because the reaction of methanol is determined by the speed of formation of formic acid in the body and its ability to detoxify the liver.

 Drinking methanol, although in small amounts, can be dangerous and cause serious health problems, including coma, seizures, and blindness, even death. Methanol is also toxic / poisonous if inhaled or exposed to the eyes, because it can damage eyesight.
Illicit brew in Production

In Summary, the phases of the toxic effects that could occur due to exposure to methanol:

PHASE 1: Suppressed Central Nervous System: Intoxication: Between 30Min-2hrs
PHASE 2: Asymptomatic latent phase: No signs of poisoning yet.
PHASE 3: Increased blood acidity: Causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness
PHASE 4: Toxicity in the eye, followed by blindness, coma, and possibly death: 12-48 hours after drinking.

Since this is not a science blog:let me not bore you.Class dismissed!!!

I hope you are a little bit enlightened when next time you go out there and take a sip and start seeing blurry-blue to green-ish Avatar looking people.

Dont get me wrong,I don’t imply that my readers take illicit brews,but you never know what they could ‘put’ in that punch at one of those exclusive high society bashes you will attend.

The Scribe rests his Pen…

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