Feature Public Health

India’s problem with toxic alcohol

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4536 (Published 25 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4536
  1. Jeetha D’Silva, journalist, Mumbai
  1. j.dsilva{at}gmail.com

Contamination in illicit alcoholic drinks leads regularly to deaths. Jeetha D’Silva asks, what can be done?

A recent bout of toxic alcohol poisoning in Mumbai resulted in 102 deaths, refocusing the spotlight on Maharashtra’s management of such incidents. Most of the public ire was directed at the government and the state health department. Doctors working at the time said that the number of patients with poisoning was so high that any healthcare system would have struggled.

Owais Shaikh, a doctor at the private Prime Hospital in Malvani, a slum dominated area in Mumbai’s western suburbs, often sees inebriated patients who need immediate medical attention brought into his hospital. But before 17 June he had never seen such a rush of patients brought in with symptoms of methanol poisoning.

“It was a disastrous situation,” Shaikh told The BMJ. “Seven people were brought into our hospital at a late stage [of poisoning]. They were showing signs of severe metabolic acidosis, some had started convulsing, and some of them were comatose,” he said.

The hospital could admit only four of the seven patients because it has only one ventilator. Patients were given infusions of sodium bicarbonate to manage the metabolic acidosis and were treated with inotropes for shock. Some of the patients were moved to tertiary care government hospitals, but all died.

Rosemarie deSouza, professor and chief of the medical intensive care unit at BYL Nair Charitable Hospital, a tertiary hospital in Mumbai, which admitted 23 patients, said that …

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