On 1 March 2017, the Tanzania government officially issued a ban on the import, manufacturing, sale and consumption of the (in) famous alcohol sachets. Known as viroba, alcohol sachets are small amounts (50ml or 100ml) of hard liquor packaged in plastic and sold for around $0.25. They have been widely available in the country. In defending the ban of sachets, the government cited environmental pollution and the need to protect youth from harmful alcohol use. Officials confirmed that research conducted by the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) Mwanza Centre contributed evidence on the harmful impact of sachets on young people.
In 2012, researchers from NIMR Mwanza conducted a study of the epidemiology of alcohol use among young people in Mwanza and Moshi regions. This research included young people aged 15 to 24 who were in secondary school, college and those employed in formal and informal sectors in the country. The study revealed that alcohol sachets were the most preferred drink of choice mainly because of their cheap price, portability and wide availability.
Dr. Gerry Mshana (co-chair of the STRIVE alcohol working group) shared these findings in a Learning Lab. In giving the context, he reflected on the introduction of sachets as an element of the alcohol industry’s push to create new markets. A paper by Mshana and colleagues (currently under peer review) deepens this analysis, examining the role of sachet marketing and availability in changing drinking norms among young people in Tanzania.
Researchers from NIMR and MITU presented these and other, related findings in a dissemination meeting with national stakeholders. This meeting played a key part in communicating specific research findings on youth alcohol use, with one presentation specifically highlighting findings on the use of alcohol sachets among young people.
In the same week that the government issued the alcohol sachet ban, ministry officials from the Department of Substance Abuse expressed their appreciation to researchers from NIMR and MITU on their contribution to evidence supporting the ban. They reaffirmed their intention to continue working with the Mwanza research team in the ongoing development of a national alcohol policy.
A range of national and international media have featured the sachet ban, including: