A mass of people lines up outside Kenema Public Pharmacy to buy sanitizer and alcohol.

With the goal of making hand sanitizer available to the public, the Ministry of Finance lifted the 60pc excise tax imposed on denatured alcohol last week.

The tax was waived after hand sanitizer producers filed complaints to the Ministry that stressed the burden of the tax, which is constricting their ability to respond to the spike in demand since the arrival of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). In response, the Finance Ministry and Ministry of Trade & Industry had a discourse on the issue and came to the decision to waive the tax.

The producers also complained that there is a supply shortage of technical alcohol, according to Teka Gebereyesus, state minister for Trade & Industry.

“We're forcing different companies to produce hand sanitizer, in order to increase the supply," he said, "hence, it was also necessary to reduce the burden for these companies."

Currently, the main suppliers of the technical alcohol are the sugar refineries, Methara and Finchaa, both state-owned plants located in the Oromia Regional State. With a combined production capacity of 100,000lt a day, the technical alcohol is channeled to 145 producers.

The amount of technical alcohol that is provided to these companies is determined by the production facility and capacity of the companies.

The refineries have a much larger capacity than what they are currently producing due to the season. Typically, production increases over the course of the summer, according to Gashaw Ayechelhum, chief communications officer at the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, which operates the sugar factories.

After having a meeting with the Ministry of Trade & Industry, the Corporation added seven additional sugar plants to be under the streamline of the supply from the sugar refineries. The Corporation supplies alcohol to the companies authorised by the Ministry.

“We have limited resources from the refineries," said Teka, "and we're working on how to regulate or ensure it isn’t abused.”

Currently, there are over 18 industries that are engaged in the production of the sanitizer with a total production capacity of 1.2 million litres a day.

Before the Coronavirus outbreak, the production of sanitizer was very minimal due to low demand, according to Biniyam Mengistu, general manager of Bephon, a three-year-old cosmetics and pharmaceuticals producer.

“But now we're forced to close all of our other production lines and focus on producing hand sanitizer," Biniyam told Fortune.

Bephon is one of the newest additions by the Ministry of Trade & Industry to the channel of the sugar refineries to receive 100,000lt of technical alcohol.

In 2016, local producers made 4.2 million litres of pure alcohol, and the government collected 155.6 million Br in excise tax from the products. Two years ago, Ethiopia imported 14,825lt of pure alcohol, which generated 820,000 Br in excise tax for the government.

Tadele Bogale (MD), a public health expert at Family Health International 360, strongly recommends hand washing as the gold standard for hygiene and preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

"Hand washing mechanically removes pathogens; however, it doesn't kill the virus, it simply removes the virus," said Tadele.

In the case of hand sanitizer, alcohol-based sanitizer that has an alcohol content greater than 60pc are effective in preventing the infectious disease, according to the expert.

"But there should be a correction on the usage of sanitizer," he said, "as people should thoroughly apply throughout the whole surface of the hand."

In addition, it is important to note that not all hand sanitizers are equally effective against Coronavirus. Whenever possible, people should opt for water and soap instead of hand sanitizer, according to Tadele.

"However, the best way to prevent the disease is by implementing social distancing as much as possible at any cost," he recommended.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 21,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1038]

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