North-West University: Prof Miriam Moagi strives to alleviate the burden of student alcohol abuse

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Mental health expert Prof Miriam Mmamphamo Moagi is a research professor at the School of Nursing Science (Mahikeng Campus) of the North-West University (NWU). In contrast to typical nursing-related interests, her research interests include mental health, substance use and abuse, programme development, student/adolescent health and well-being, and the homeless who are mentally impaired. Her current research developed from when she was conducting her doctoral research. She joined a project called SANTRUST, where she learned all about proposal development, writing and review, as well as research methodologies. At the time, she was invited to collaborate on two major projects in the City of Tshwane: homelessness in the city and localising the National Drug Master Plan in the city. Her work on these projects sparked her interest in the problem of alcohol abuse among students at higher-education institutions (HEIs) in South Africa.

The problem of alcohol abuse among university students is a reality that is well known but difficult to address effectively. South Africa is rated among the countries with the highest levels of alcohol abuse among students in the whole of Africa. Statistics show that, currently, children as young as 12 years of age have not only been exposed to alcohol, but consume it repeatedly. Consider, for example, the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, where 21 teenagers aged between 13 and 18 died at a tavern. Where does this leave our youth in terms of responsibility by the time they reach university?

For her PhD, Prof Moagi developed a comprehensive support programme, aiming to alleviate the burden of alcohol abuse among university students. Currently, her research is centred around the implementation of this programme and securing funds to do so. The reality is that students view alcohol as fashionable, pleasurable and an inevitable part of social life. It is regarded as a social lubricant that brings about confidence and a joyful atmosphere. Prof Moagi’s support programme aims to target students from their first year of study, as first years are typically more vulnerable to alcohol abuse due to peer pressure and the social environments in which they operate. The programme uses the three pillars of the National Drug Master Plan (2013–2017) as a framework: harm reduction, demand reduction and supply reduction.

The three pillars of the National Drug Master Plan

Promotive, curative, rehabilitative and coordinated services are proposed to ensure that alcohol is consumed in a safe environment at HEIs and within certain limitations. One example would be that purchasing, distribution and availability of alcohol may be controlled and limited to certain hours.

A second component of our expert’s support programme involves the screening of students for a high risk of and a predisposition to alcohol abuse. The results of such screenings can be used to avoid the red zone by providing identified high-risk students with comprehensive health services and more in-depth interventions.

It is not a matter of whether, but rather when and how students at HEIs need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge that will allow them to use alcohol responsibly, reduce risky behaviour and reduce the demand for alcohol at universities. The support programme proposed by Prof Moagi addresses these matters in detail. Alcohol abuse among students is real, and through extensive research and pure expertise Prof Moagi has taken a huge step towards finding a solution for a problem with a far-reaching impact.

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