Khat, the Leaf Causing Liver Disease

Khat-liver-diseaseFebruary 20, 2019 ( - To many Ethiopians, life revolves around the ‘leaf.’ Chewing khat - commonly known as ‘Miraa’ in east and central Africa- is the norm. You’ll observe groups of men and in some cases women, laying papyrus grass on the floor of their homes, they burn frankincense and brew coffee, which they drink while chewing khat. They say frankincense sets the mood necessary for chewing khat.

But do you know that chewing khat causes liver disease?

A group of medical researchers is calling our attention to their findings, which established an association between liver disease in sub-Saharan Africa and the practice of chewing khat, or popularly ‘Miraaa.’

In their letter addressed to The Lancet Medical Journal, the experts from Norway, Ethiopia, and the United Kingdom appreciated the attention the region has given to liver disease in one of the recently published works by another team of researchers.

Nonetheless, they cited several omissions, including Ethiopia, which suggests a solid causative link between chewing khat and liver failure, especially among men.

Dr. Stian Magnus Staurung Orlien of the Oslo University Hospital understands what ails the region, as far as chewing khat is concerned. He says that khat leads to the development of chronic liver disease in sub-Saharan Africa and failure to recognize its effects means that its importance for the well-being of the public will continue to be overlooked.

Ethiopia’s History of Chewing Khat:

Since time immemorial, Ethiopians chewed khat. It’s not something new. But the habit was limited to Muslim-populated regions, where worshippers did so to pray for extended periods, especially during Ramadan.

However, cultivation and consumption have since spread to areas like Amhara- mostly occupied by Orthodox Christians and the countryside where young men and women chew khat without the knowledge of their parents.

According to the authorities, half of Ethiopia’s youth are chewing khat in a habit termed as an epidemic. The government is even worried the practice is likely to derail its transformation agenda because there will be a lack of the required army of young workers to realize this dream.

While these concerns remain legitimate, khat remains legal because it’s a key source of revenue for the government. Despite the mounting health concerns about its use.

It’s also socially acceptable, and it’ll be extremely challenging to reduce the burden of liver disease in the region if preventive measures of combating the chewing menace aren’t employed.

Traditional Medicine?

One concern highlighted by the research team is the view that khat is considered a traditional medicine. The truth is it’s a recreational drug. Indeed, you’ll see groups of men and women gathered at their favorite joints or in their residential areas where they chew khat until late in the night.

Before the diplomatic row between Kenya and Somalia erupted, there were more than twenty flights a day carrying khat exports from the former to Somali, but the number has significantly reduced. Somali khat traders have turned to Ethiopian suppliers.

Anti-khat crusaders in Somalia are happy that their country is facing a shortage of the drug, but as far as Kenya is concerned khat offers them a business opportunity and it’s not a traditional medicine as suggested by the users.

Lack of Opportunities:

In leading towns like Addis Ababa, skyscrapers are mushrooming, signifying a country whose economy is booming. Indeed, Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at the rate of 10% over the last decade.

However, despite the progress achieved, the youth who make up 70% of the population are unable to find stable jobs. They’ve even cast doubt on the government’s economic growth figures. And many people find solace in khat.

This is detrimental for the country’s economic progress since khat chewers end up being lazy and unhealthy as indicated by the team of specialists. They say khat causes chronic and fatal liver disease.

A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Problem:

The issue of khat is complex, and it requires a multidisciplinary approach by the government, health and religious stakeholders to find a viable solution. But the first step involves accepting the existence of a khat-caused liver disease that’s threatening the lives of people.

By Solomon O. for Ezega News



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