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Why vodka, whisky are good first-aid to avoid blindness caused by illicit brews

Doctors explain how illicit brews cause blindness & how vodka/whisky is good for first-aid

Security officers pour illicit brews during crackdown in Kirinyaga

In the serene village of Kangai in Kirinyaga County, Kenya, a tragic event unfolded on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, after which angry residents torched the drinking den.

An illicit brew, consumed by villagers, turned deadly, claiming 10 lives and severely impairing the vision of several others.

This incident highlights the grave dangers of consuming unregulated alcohol and sheds light on the pressing issue of methanol poisoning, a risk associated with illicit brews.

Methanol, a toxic chemical often used in illicit alcohol, can have devastating effects on human health.


“Methanol, which is the chemical component in many illicit brews, depletes the enzymes that work in the retina and therefore burns the nerves in the eye, which then causes blindness,” Dr Austin Omondi explains.

When ingested, methanol is metabolised into formaldehyde and formic acid, substances that can damage the optic nerve, leading to irreversible blindness.

Health professionals warn about the acute dangers of methanol exposure, emphasising the importance of understanding and recognising the signs of poisoning early.

Dr Bosire Wairimu, a prominent health expert, provides critical first-aid advice for methanol poisoning.


"In cases where methanol poisoning is suspected, immediately offering whisky or vodka can be a lifesaving measure," says Dr Wairimu.

"Non-adulterated alcohol competes with methanol for the same metabolism pathways, potentially delaying the toxic effects and giving victims more time to receive medical treatment," she adds.

This unconventional yet effective first-aid response underscores the urgency of addressing methanol poisoning promptly.

The allure of illicit brews often stems from their affordability and accessibility, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas.


However, the risks associated with these unregulated beverages far outweigh their appeal. The tragedy in Kirinyaga is a stark reminder of the broader social and economic factors driving the consumption of illicit brews in Kenya, including poverty, unemployment, and the lack of access to safe, regulated alcoholic options.

To combat the dangers of illicit alcohol, public awareness is crucial. The community must be educated on how to identify safe alcoholic beverages and the signs of methanol poisoning.

Such knowledge can empower individuals to make informed choices and avoid the potentially fatal consequences of consuming dangerous brews.

Authorities and health officials are calling for stricter regulations and enforcement to curb the production and distribution of illicit alcohol.


The tragic event in Kirinyaga serves as a solemn reminder of the urgent need to tackle the problem of illicit brews head-on.

By raising awareness, enhancing regulations, and supporting affected communities, the country can hope to prevent such devastating incidents in the future.


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