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Illegal local brew kills 14 in Kenya

By Lillian Leposo, For CNN
  • Changa'a is a homemade brew sold cheaply in Nairobi slums
  • The beverage can be laced with chemicals to hasten its preparation
  • A number of deaths have occurred over the years from consuming it
  • Kenya
  • Poisoning
  • Beverages

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- At least 14 people died in a Nairobi slum after drinking illegal local brew, which may have been laced with chemicals to make it more potent, a government official said.

Another 11 people from the Kibera area are hospitalized, complaining of stomach pains after drinking the brew popularly known as changa'a, said local official Richard Juma. Fifty-one people were arrested in a police raid for allegedly possessing changa'a, and were being held at a local police station, he said.

"As a government we are not happy about this incident," Juma said. "We will continue to raid where we think the brew dens are located until this menance is completely done away with."

While Juma said 14 people had died, police spokesman Eric Kiraithe put the number of deaths at six, saying police are investigating to determine the actual number of deaths and the number of those hospitalized.

A sample of the changa'a has been taken to a government chemist for testing.

Changa'a is sold cheaply in Nairobi slums. While it can take a long time to prepare, greedy brewers lace it with chemicals to hasten the process and to make it more potent. There have been a number of deaths from drinking changa'a in recent years, and other people been blinded.

"The reason these people continue to drink this harmful alcohol even with awareness of its deadly ramifications is because some of the residents here don't care about their lives, they'd rather drink all day," Juma said.

Samuel Chege was treated and released Monday at the Nairobi national hospital after consuming changa'a during a weekend drinking spree and experiencing stomach pains.

"I urge other people not to drink changa'a because you don't know how it has been prepared," he said.

Members of Parliament have passed a bill to legalize changa'a and other drinks, but the president has not yet signed it.

"In my opinion, it should not be legalized because the number of proprietors will increase and so will the number of drunks," Juma said.

Mary Nduku said her cousin died after drinking the deadly beverage. She said she was called home from work to find him lying on the floor of their house. He and a neighbor, who was also unconscious, were rushed to the hospital but pronounced dead on arrival.

"The government should work hard in stopping this problem," Nduku said. "We are losing too many people. Our people are dying and some are becoming blind. The government should not legalize this homemade local brew as there are people who will take advantage and make all sorts of alcohol."