On 23-24 November 2008 WHO held a Roundtable meeting with NGOs and health professionals on ways they could contribute to reducing harmful use of alcohol.

In the meeting GAPA made the following statement:

The mission of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance is to reduce alcohol related harm world wide by promoting science based policies independent of commercial interests. GAPA grew out of an international conference held in Syracuse, New York, in 2000. It works closely with EUROCARE, the European regional alcohol policy alliance; APAPA, the Asian Pacific Alcohol Policy Alliance; IAPA, the Indian Alcohol Policy Alliance; and APYN, the Alcohol Policy Youth Network based in Europe. The GAPA Board contains representatives from all of the world’s inhabited continents.

GAPA welcomes the initiative being taken by the World Health Organization to develop a global strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm. In the words of the European health ministers meeting in Stockholm in 2001, it is critical that such a strategy be developed “independent of commercial interests.”

GAPA provides expertise, perspective and experience from the ground in reducing alcoholrelated harm around the world. It seeks to counter-balance the powerful lobbying activities of commercial interests in alcohol, putting forward a consistent, evidence-based, public health approach.

In this light, GAPA encourages WHO to consider the following in developing the global strategy:

  1. As the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health recommended in its recently published final report, WHO should learn from the experience of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and should initiate a discussion with Member States on regulatory action for alcohol control. As in the FCTC, such regulatory actions should address alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship; taxation; the physical availability of alcohol (including outlet density and hours of sale); minimum purchase ages; and other evidence-based strategies to reduce alcohol-related harm.
  2. The WHO should also encourage Member States to strengthen their capacity to represent health interests in global trade treaties and at the World Trade Organization. Trade treaties must not be permitted to deprive Member States of their ability to regulate and control alcohol as a commodity. WHO and public health voices must be expressed and heard in trade treaty development and implementation.
  3. The involvement of youth, particularly in the less wealthy countries, is critical. Around the world, and as part of the epidemiological transition, young people are being exposed to a different range of health risks than before, including greater risk from price and other marketing-based inducements to consume alcohol. Adults bear responsibility for allowing this to happen, and the development of human capacity in youth is of concern to all. Young people’s voices must be encouraged and heard to ensure that the global strategy encompasses and responds to their rapidly changing and globally diffusing experience.
  4. Population-based strategies addressing both supply and demand for alcohol need to be complemented by targeting key groups at risk of alcohol-related harm. Screening and brief intervention as well as provision of treatment to those with alcohol dependence are actions of a humane society and should be part of a comprehensive strategy. Measures protecting third parties as well as drinkers themselves should be part of the strategy, and should include drink driving safety measures relating to BAC limits, random breath testing and licence suspension; and health and safety at work regulations.
  5. WHO also has an important role in enlisting the support and cooperation of other United Nation institutions by seeking to establish an inter agency working group with ILO, UNESCO, UNDP, FAO, WTO and the World Bank, to ensure that all major global bodies comprehend that alcohol is no ordinary commodity and support implementation of effective policies to reduce harm.
  6. The strategy needs to address the millennium goals. There is a relation between alcohol and poverty that can have a deleterious impact on sustainable development. As well as the economic consequences there is the fact that alcohol related mortality is often highest among the poor in society. International Development Agencies have an important role to play in raising awareness about the issue and in seeking ways to address the inequalities exacerbated by problems relating to alcohol. It would appear appropriate for WHO to organise a workshop for International Development Agencies to discuss the matter.

For its part, GAPA will seek to create and foster supportive networks at global and regional levels able to disseminate relevant information, provide policy advocacy and to undertake specific tasks such as the monitoring of alcohol marketing. GAPA provides a link between major regional alliances such as EUROCARE, APAPA and IAPA, and is also supporting the establishment and articulation of youth networks in Europe, Africa and Asia. These networks provide a forum for alcohol policy advocates and seek to bring to the attention of governments and non-governmental agencies the social, economic and health consequences of alcohol consumption and related harm. They build on NGOs’ abilities to mobilize community resources, to identify and respond to needs in innovative ways, to work in broad coalition with a range of sectors of society, and to organize and press for effective strategies for reducing alcohol-related harm.

In 1995, the European Conference on Health, Society and Alcohol adopted five ethical principles to guide efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm. These principles recognize the rights of all humans to protection from negative consequences of alcohol consumption, impartial information and education about alcohol use and related harm, a childhood free to the extent possible from alcohol-related harm and the promotion of alcoholic beverages, accessible treatment and care for families and individuals with harmful levels of alcohol consumption, and support for the decision not to consume alcohol. WHO should look to these ethical principles to guide a global strategy as well.

GAPA recognizes that there is no one-policy panacea. What is required from WHO is a list of policy options that have proven validity. From these options policy makers can choose and adapt them to their particular social, economic and political cultures. Given strong leadership from WHO, the task of NGOs will be to mobilize civil society to accept ownership of the problem and help to create the political will necessary to successfully reduce the global burden of disease caused by alcohol.

Report available at WHO website