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Trauma units across South Africa are scenes of carnage at the best of times.

Over the festive season, they become the stuff of nightmares.

This year, however, with alcohol sales banned, they were largely silent in every province with staff members able to focus on spiralling Covid-19 admissions instead.

Chris Hani Baragwanath in Soweto - the third largest hospital in the world - famously had zero trauma cases on New Year’s Eve – for the first time ever (it started admitting patients in 1942).



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South Africa has an alcohol problem, that much is clear, but millions of us are directly or indirectly dependent on the industry for employment.

Was the government too gung-ho in abruptly and fully banning alcohol sales again?

Refilwe Moloto asked Dr Saadiq Kariem (Chief of Operations at Western Cape Department of Health) to discuss trauma admissions during the different stages of the alcohol ban:

  • Before 12 July at Level-3 without an alcohol sales ban

  • After 12 July at Level-3 with a complete alcohol sales ban

  • After 18 August when alcohol sales were allowed but restricted

  • 21 December to 27 December with partial alcohol sales and a curfew between 11:00 PM to 4:00 AM

  • After 28 December with a complete alcohol sales ban and a curfew between 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM

We’re trying to cancel out, as far as possible, the confounding effect of the movement of people, and try and see where it’s alcohol on its own.

Dr Saadiq Kariem, Chief of Operations - Western Cape Department of Health

When comparing the period between 1 June to 12 July with the period from 13 July to 17 August … there was a 48% drop in the weekend trauma peaks and a 32% drop in average daily trauma presentations…

Dr Saadiq Kariem, Chief of Operations - Western Cape Department of Health

After 18 August to 21 September [partial ban] … people moved around more, but we still had a drop of 22% in the average daily trauma cases…

Dr Saadiq Kariem, Chief of Operations - Western Cape Department of Health

Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve… it’s [usually] carnage! Lots and lots of trauma… New Year’s Eve itself… compared to last year, trauma dropped by 65%.

Dr Saadiq Kariem, Chief of Operations - Western Cape Department of Health

The data is conclusive. When there’s a complete ban on alcohol sales we have a far greater drop in trauma presentations. When there’s a partial ban, there is still a drop in trauma presentations, but not as great… There is a definite link between alcohol and trauma.

Dr Saadiq Kariem, Chief of Operations - Western Cape Department of Health

Listen to the interview in the audio below [skip to 3:21].

This article first appeared on CapeTalk : Alcohol ban was wildly effective at preventing trauma - data

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