Please excuse the seeming insensitivity of this article’s headline, but African gin has seriously gone antiretroviral.
HIV-dedicated citizen journalist network Key Correspondent reports that farmers in Malawi have begun using antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) as a fermentation agent when distilling their local firewater known as “kachasu”. Key Correspondent cites Malawi’s Weekend Nation newspaper that claims that sales of the gin are booming specifically in the regions where HIV is most concentrated and thus, where the highest volume of ARVs would be available to steal from poorly-protected hospitals and resold. The problem seems to date as far back as 2009.
Kachasu originates with the brewing of maize husks, banana peels, or similar grains and fruits and follows more or less the same process as any spirits distillation, although in decidedly shabbier stills as the picture below attests. Local Kachasu pushers theorize that adding ARVs to the mix results in a stronger gin that matures more quickly.
Obviously, distilling ARV moonshine is a horrible misuse of pills meant for a much higher purpose (not to diminish the importance of enjoying gin, but seriously, these are life-saving drugs!), and drinking the illicit hooch isn’t going to help an HIV patient’s treatment. What’s worse, Malawi has a shortage of ARVs and has accumulated a significant debt paying for the drugs it actually has.
What can we, the gin drinkers of the UK, do to help the Malawian situation? Perhaps we could divert some of the duty we pay on our gin - a duty that averages over £8 per 70cl bottle - to help African nations tighten up their medical supplies security and get more of the drugs to the people that need them, not the moonshine distillers. Wouldn’t it feel good to know that every time you buy a bottle of craft gin you actually could help prevent AIDS?