Leaders blame Kebs, Nacada as toll from killer brew reaches 28

A patient lies at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret after he allegedly consumped the adulterated alcohol that has now claimed 28 lives.[PHOTO: KEVIN TUNOI/STANDARD]

UASIN GISHU: The late Edwin Chebutie, the assistant chief of Kamobo sub-location, had a busy day last Wednesday and needed to relax, and so did village elder and his close friend Christopher Kirwa. They decided to unwind at a local pub in the evening, unaware that they had walked straight into a death trap.

“They went to Sizzlers Pub and shared three bottles of Meakins liquor. As the evening progressed, the two went home. Later, both complained of stomachache and were rushed to Kapsabet Hospital,” said Kamobo Chief Benjamin Lulei.

The two friends succumbed in the night to the brew that continues to consume lives in Nandi and Uasin Gishu counties.

The deaths from the liquor that were first reported on Thursday have continued to increase and by late Monday, the toll had hit 28. Three people are in the Intensive Care Unit and others in hospital beds across the two counties.

By Monday, the alcohol had in Uasin Gishu alone claimed 13 lives and left more than seven admitted to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. Fifteen people have died in Nandi from the liquor since last week.

A lecturer from a local university who bought the killer brew in Eldoret town died at home at night. “He came home with two bottles in his coat and started drinking as he usually does in the evening. We wish we knew it was poisoned but it is now too late,” said his wife who asked not to be named.

The lecturer’s friend, a teacher who shared a drink with him earlier, also died at home in Kisumu Ndogo. Another teacher who was in their company reportedly survived after drinking five litres of water.

Among the dead is a Form One student and two college students. “I do not know where my other two student friends are, we were drinking together at the university,” said Paul Ong’esa, a Media studies student at Moi University.

He added: “We bought three bottles of Meakins spirit at Sh70 each on Friday evening in preparation for a party. It was more conc and bitter than usual and I woke up in hospital on Saturday,” he explained.

As the death toll rises, the blame game has begun on just who might have failed in their duties.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago outrightly blamed the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) for failure to moderate, certify and inspect all alcoholic beverages. “The drinks have the Kebs mark of quality which the consumers trust. People have ditched chang’aa and other illicit concoctions just to die from certified liquor. The agency officials should drink these liquors themselves to prove that they are not toxic...,” he said.

Uasin Gishu County Commissioner Abdi Hassan was puzzled that drinks that had been approved and certified by bodies like Kebs and Nacada could kill people.

“These drinks are not illegal, they are sold in licensed pubs and bars and have quality check marks and the blame cannot be directed to the consumers but the agencies that approved their sale,” he said.

He revealed that nine people suspected to be behind the sale of the toxic alcohol had been arrested and are helping them trace the source of the liquor.

Barnabas Lihema of Kebs North Rift had a difficult time explaining why the body had failed to ensure safety.

“The fraudsters are becoming cunning as it seems they are using containers of our certified brands to repackage their sub-standard and toxic brews thus making it difficult to distinguish between genuine and fake brands,” he said.

He said the body can only take responsibility if it is found that Kebs-approved manufacturers have compromised standards.