22 Dead, 9 Hospitalized After Drinking Homemade Gin in Uganda

At least 22 people have died and nine more have been hospitalized after drinking illegal, homemade gin, a health official said Wednesday.

A 1-liter bottle of the illicit gin sells for US$0.40 (euro.30) and is popular among poor Ugandans because it is cheap and extremely strong. The ingredients are often unknown.

"They all died from poisoning," said Dr. Elly Tumushabe, director of health services in Komo Island in Lake Victoria, about 95 miles east of the capital, Kampala. "They all drank a local brew brought to the island by a trader."

It is possible the death toll could rise, he said.

The gin was taken to the island Friday and six people who drank it died Saturday, authorities said. Seven died Sunday, five on Monday, three on Tuesday and at least one Wednesday.

Poverty is widespread in Uganda. Almost half its 22 million people live on less than a US$1 (euro.75) a day.

Two of the gin trader's colleagues have been arrested. Police accuse them of helping the trader spike the gin of 20 jerry-cans, locally known as Nguli, with chemicals before he brought them to Komo Island, which has a population of 22,000.

"We are hunting for him and we are certain we will get him soon," Police Commander James Awulenyi said, adding that the trader ran the business for more than two years.

Police say he will be charged with murder if caught.