At least 21 people have been killed after consuming illicit home-brew in Machakos district in southeast Kenya, medical authorities confirmed Saturday.
Several others were admitted at the Machakos district hospital in critical condition after drinking the liquor while others have turned blind, said Simon Muoke, a medical superintendent officer at the Machakos district hospital, about 60 kilometers southeast of Nairobi.
Medical authorities think the brew may have been adulterated with methanol.
Muoke said according to some victims, the brew locally known as "chang'aa" or "kumi kumi" had been brought to the Makutano Center by a woman and police have erected roadblocks along major roads tonab the distributor. "Kumi kumi", means "ten ten" in local Kiswahili, a reference toits selling price of ten shillings a glass.
Police are still collecting bodies from various houses in the trading center after they succumbed to the poisonous brew said to have been transported from Mai Mahiu, about 60 kilometers northwest of Nairobi.
Muoke said the Machakos district hospital is packed with victims as more drinkers continue to arrive from areas across the district.
Muoke expressed fears that more people could die in other places where the liquor, brewed in hundreds of illegal drinking dens across Kenya, had been distributed.
The liquor is cheaper than legal drinks and has very high alcohol content -- brewers often add ethanol to give the drink an extra kick.
In August 1998 more than 100 people died south of Nairobi afterdrinking chang'aa laced with methanol.
In November 2000, at least 140 Kenyans died, many went blind and hundreds others were hospitalized after consuming chang'aa in the poor neighborhoods of Mukuru Kwa Njenga and Mukuru Kaiyaba, both located on the outskirts of Nairobi's Industrial area.
And the Mukuru deaths were not an isolated case.
In 1999, about 100 villagers in Mai Mahiu, 60 kilometers west of Nairobi, died as a result of drinking adulterated alcohol.
The police have tried, sometimes halfheartedly, to crack down on the brewing and consumption of illicit liquor but with minimal success.
The brew is often made by widows who depend on the trade for their livelihood and they sometimes resort to doctoring the alcohol to boost the intensity of the brew.
Chang'aa vendors typically share a cup with their customers, partly to be sociable but also to demonstrate their faith in the liquor. Many of the victims of the latest calamity were those who sold it.
Many Kenyans have been driven to heavy drinking by the ever declining value of the Kenya shilling, and a poor economy has forced many Kenyans to develop what can only be described as highly innovative ways of getting drunk.
Made from sorghum, maize or millet, the alcoholic drink is common among Kenyans living in the country's low-income urban and rural areas, who are too poor to afford half liter of conventionallegal beer, which costs 65 shillings.