19–20 September 2011, New York, USA, UN High-level meeting on NCDs.

Alcohol identified as a major cause of a global ‘slow motion disaster’

The United Nations (UN) has adopted, by consensus, a Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs).

The Declaration was broadly welcomed by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance despite concerns that it did not go far enough. A particular concern was the potential conflict of interest between commercial interests and public health objectives.

The Declaration was launched at a UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases in New York in September 2011 attended by representatives of government, NGOs and the corporate sector. The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance was represented at the Summit by Derek Rutherford and Professor Sally Caswell.

GAPA gives qualified Welcome to the Declaration

While GAPA welcomed the UN Summit and the Declaration, it expressed concern about the adequacy of the commitments on alcohol and also disquiet at the potential conflict of interests between commercial needs and public health objectives inherent in the Summit process.

GAPA stated:

“Whilst the Political Declaration acknowledges that the global burden of NCDs constitutes one of the major challenges in the 21st Century and calls for “effective responses” and for “greater measures” to prevent and control NCDs, there are areas where it could be more explicit in the measures governments and the UN need to take. WHO Europe in its Regional Framework on alcohol stated that the ability of governments to use some of the most effective tools to prevent and reduce alcohol related harm had been substantially weakened, due to trade agreements. Also SEARO and WPRO Regional Committees have mentioned the hindrance to implement effective alcohol policy due to trade liberalization. The impact of WTO policies on health is not dealt with in the Declaration. The report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants recommended caution be applied in the consideration of new global, regional and bilateral economic (trade and investment) policy commitments. However, the UN Political Declaration is silent on this issue.

In addition to the failure to address this vital issue, the challenge of restricting the oversupply and marketing by the global alcohol industry has not been addressed. Market analysts concur that the Industry is highly innovative and the sophisticated marketing helps recruit young people to drinking and to influence them to drink more. New product development is a vital factor in its profitability. It has targeted young female drinkers with its alcopops.

 WHO Africa Regional Committee (June 2010) Stated: “There is need to regulate the content and scale of alcohol marketing and the promotion of alcoholic beverages, in particular sponsorship, product placement, as well as internet and promotional merchandising strategies”.  It goes on to say “no other product so widely available for consumer use accounts for so much premature death and disability as alcohol”.

Policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests without interference from commercial interests. GAPA believes the alcohol industry must comply with national and international laws and regulations and implement public health friendly policy.

GAPA concurs with the NCD Alliance concern that failure by the UN to address the conflict of interest between commercial corporations and public health will undermine the effectiveness of this initiative to reduce NCDs. National and international governmental bodies and the NGO movement must recognize that the need to promote global increases in sales of products such as alcohol mean that the industry cannot be engaged in partnership in the effort to reduce harm.”

Prior to the Summit GAPA joined forces with over 100 other health NGOs to form a Conflict of Interest Coalition. The Coalition isued statments both before and after the Summit had taken place.