Illegal alcohol kills at least 50 people in Kenya

NAIROBI Tue May 6, 2014 1:15pm EDT

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - At least 50 people in Kenya have died this week from drinking illegal liquor, local media and officials said on Tuesday.

They said dozens more people were hospitalized and several went blind. Television footage showed victims writhing in pain in hospitals in the eastern and central counties of Embu, Kitui and Kiambu.

In Kiambu County, where 11 people died, Police Commander James Mugera said authorities were looking out for more victims. Embu Police Commander William Okello said at least 24 people died while 77 were in hospital after consuming the brew.

Kenya's KTN television reported a total of 50 deaths, while Citizen TV report 61 deaths.

The spirits probably all originated from one batch, John Mututho, chairman of the state-run National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, told Citizen TV.

Drinking dens selling illicit home brews from jerry cans are common in the back streets of many Kenyan towns and villages. They prompted Mututho, a former lawmaker, to sponsor a landmark alcohol-control law in 2010, but the law has proved ineffective.

"One of the ladies who is now blind said they started drinking at 5 a.m.," Mututho told Citizen. "There is no outlet in Kenya which is authorized to open at 5 a.m. In fact, the earliest it should be (is) 5 p.m."

In June 2005, 45 people were killed from illegal alcohol laced with methanol to boost its strength. Five years earlier, about 130 people died from a toxic batch in Nairobi.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa and Humphrey Malalo; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Mark Heinrich)

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