WHO EURO RCM: Make Alcohol Priority
On the fourth and final day of the 67th Regional Committee Meeting of the WHO European Region alcohol policy was on the agenda. The meeting deliberated about the “Progress report on the implementation of the European Action Plan to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol 2012–2020” under agenda item 5 (h).
While there is some progress in a few areas, and while there have been some key developments towards better alcohol control policies, the progress report alarmed civil society.
Alarming levels of alcohol use and harm
The WHO European Region has the highest adult alcohol consumption of the six WHO regions. In 2014, the European average for alcohol consumption for adults aged 15 years and older was 10.7 liter of pure alcohol.
The level of alcohol use is even more alarming considering alcohol users only: the average per capita consumption in 2014 was 19.4 liters of pure alcohol for men and 12.9 liters for women. Among those, the new progress report shows that almost 32% of men and nearly 13% of women experienced incidents of heavy episodic alcohol use in the past month. Almost 13% of men and 3% of women suffer from an alcohol use disorder.
Governments’ inadequate policy response
The report shows that governments do understand the need to tackle alcohol harm. There has been some progress in a few areas. However, governments respond by using cost-ineffective and low-impact measures.
For example, the number of Member States that had conducted national awareness-raising activities increased from 39 to 51. But education and persuasion measures are not effective in bringing about behavior change. Other more cost-effective and high-impact measures are not being employed as widely, the report shows.
For a detailed analysis, read Maik Dünnbier’s blog.
Civil society calls for making alcohol priority is must be
In joint statement delivered directly at the meeting, civil society advocates including the NCD Alliance, IFMSA, EPHA, GAPA, Studiorum and IOGT International, urged governments to to lead on taking forward the World Health Assembly calls for more attention to alcohol control.
At the latest World Health Assembly in May 2017, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had called for WHO to consider the impact of the 2010 Global Alcohol Strategy and ways forward, and together with Norway, supported a call by the South East Asian Region and Botswana, requesting the Director General to initiate and resource an Expert Committee to report on the alcohol control situation and progress prior to the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs in 2018.
The joint statement outlined the level of alcohol harm in the European region:
Harmful use of alcohol is a known risk factor for NCDs.
Youth, in particular, are vulnerable to alcohol-related harm, and there is a formidable body of evidence, which illustrates the connection between the age of onset of alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorders.
Furthermore, alcohol is the world’s number one risk factor for ill-health and premature death for the core of the working age population. Therefore, addressing population-wide alcohol use through implementation of evidence based ‘best buys’ contained in WHO’s Appendix III is a key prevention strategy to reducing preventable disability, suffering and premature death.”
And the NGO coalition finished their statement by calling on governments:
We urge European Member States to lead on taking forward the WHA calls for more attention to alcohol control, and to lead on elevating the harmful use of alcohol as a global priority at the forthcoming Executive Board meeting in January 2018.