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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 10:40 GMT
Kenya's poison brew toll rises
Patients in a hospital emergency ward
Many survivors have lost their sight
Police in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, say the death toll from a contaminated alcoholic brew has risen to 66 with a further 277 hospitalised, many of them having lost their sight.


I started vomiting in the morning and then I realised I could not see

Chang'aa drinker
The spokesman said 12 women have been arrested in connection with the deaths but the source of the brew, known as chang'aa, has not been traced.

Residents in a Nairobi suburb awoke on Wednesday morning to find dead bodies lying in the gutter near the local chang'aa den and casualties were still arriving in hospitals on Thursday.

Medical authorities think the brew may have been adulterated with methanol.

Popular and potent

Chang'aa, known locally as "kill-me-quick" because of its potentially lethal properties, is brewed in hundreds of illegal drinking dens in Nairobi and across Kenya.

It is cheaper than legal drinks and has a very high alcohol content - brewers often add ethanol to give the drink an extra kick.

Nairobi's Kenyatta hospital is packed with victims as more drinkers continue to arrive from areas across the capital.

Many have lost their sight as a result of the brew.

Victim being taken to hospital
The victims are poor people
"I started vomiting in the morning and then I realised I could not see - and then I heard the guy we were drinking with was dead," said one patient.

The Daily Nation newspaper reported that one man died as he staggered from the taxi he had hired to take him to the hospital.

The paper reported the taxi-driver took the dead man's shoes in lieu of a fare.

Poisoned

The first indications are that the brew in question contained methanol - a poison which is banned in Kenya.

"If you take it, the first thing that happens is it compromises your respiratory system... you go blind, and then you die in six to eight hours," said Dr Richard Muga, the ministry of health's director of medical services.

In August 1998 more than 80 people died south of Nairobi after drinking chang'aa laced with methanol which was known locally as "power alcohol".

The brew is often made by widows who depend on the trade for their livelihood and they sometimes resort to doctoring the alcohol to boost the intensity of the brew - and thus their custom.

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See also:

18 Feb 00 | South Asia
Illegal alcohol deaths
09 May 99 | South Asia
Deadly whisky claims 113 lives
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