May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Kenyan police are seeking suspects in connection with the poisoning deaths of at least 77 people and the hospitalization of more than 100 after they consumed toxic home-brewed alcohol, spokesman Masoud Mwinyi said.
Investigators are trying to determine the source of the illegal brew, which was distributed to slum areas in five Kenyan counties including Nairobi, Mwinyi said today by phone. Patients are suffering from ailments that include blindness and the number of dead will probably increase, he said.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said in a post on his Twitter account that more than 100 people died in the poisoning incident, before deleting it and issuing a new statement that “many” were killed. Nation Television, a Nairobi-based broadcaster, said 105 people were killed, without citing anyone.
About 2.2 million Kenyans are alcoholics in a population of 18 million aged 20 years or older. Factors including high levels of unemployment and rampant poverty underpin the problem, according to the state-run National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
Drinkers will often resort to cheaper, illegal home-brewed alcohol in the absence of an “affordable alternative,” Joe Muganda, managing director of Kenya Breweries Ltd., told reporters today in the capital, Nairobi.
“The grim truth is that these deaths are wholly unnecessary as they are totally avoidable, he said.
The unit of East African Breweries Ltd., which controls 95 percent of Kenya’s beer market and half of the country’s spirits business, is urging the government to lower excise duties on alcohol so brewers can reduce prices, Muganda said.
Two people have been arrested for selling the illicit liquor, the Interior Ministry said yesterday. Kenyan law provides for jail sentences as long as five-years and a 10-million-shilling ($114,810) fine for anyone convicted of ‘‘adulterating alcoholic drinks,” the ministry said.
In 2000, at least 113 people in Nairobi’s slums died and another 394 were treated in the hospital after drinking illegal alcohol.
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