The 6th Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC) was held in Dublin Ireland in early March, marking the 20th anniversary since the first GAPC. The event was held a week before most of Europe imposed severe restrictions due to the Covid-19 situation. Of the 412 registrations from 50 countries; 340 attended from 47 countries.
The conference was co-hosted by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) and the Department of Health. The World Health Organization co-sponsored the event which was supported by a number of Irish Civil Society organisations. In his opening speech the Health Minister, Simon Harris TD, inspired the delegates to do the right thing and join Ireland in their important journey toward stronger alcohol policies. He described the extent of alcohol industry lobbying and media pressure to oppose the Public Health (Alcohol) Act and the important role played by civil society in ensuring its passage: “When the public health lobby get together, we can achieve great things,” Harris said.
Also speaking in the opening session Professor Jürgen Rehm reminded the audience that “we are completely not on track” and the situation is getting worse in LMICs which are targeted by the alcohol industry. Barriers to action are coming from the wealthy countries, perpetuating inequity in the global environment. Greater harm is also experienced by the more disadvantaged in high income countries. These findings support e the relevance of the conference theme: “Alcohol Equity and Global Health: the benefit of alcohol control for sustainable development for all.”
GAPC 2020 maintained the tradition of focusing on advocacy, overcoming vested interests in alcohol policy development and the need for international collaboration to stop the harm caused by alcohol. Seven plenaries, 26 concurrent sessions and five workshops were held during the three days.
Said GAPA Chair, Professor Sally Casswell: “Despite good evidence of how to reduce harm, an adequate policy response is not being made. This due to a combination of industry interference, lack of political will and an ongoing ‘blindspot’ in global health governance.”
Participants in the conference congratulated the International Organising Committee for the diversity shown in plenary speakers in terms of gender and representation from many regions and countries of the world. In his plenary presentation, delivered by video (as some had to be given the Covid-19 situation), Dr Thaksaphon Thamarangsi, Director, Healthier Populations and Noncommunicable Diseases, WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia Region, reflected on the positive developments which have occurred in relation to alcohol policy referred to the Global Alcohol Policy Conference as an institution for alcohol policy.
In closing the conference Professor David Jernigan pointed out that there was no conference declaration from GAPC 2020: “Your presence here is our declaration. We are here. We are not going away. We will not be stopped by an industry, or a virus, or an industry that uses viral marketing.”
Ongoing discussion among conference participants and other interested civil society actors will be taking place online, on the Workplace platform, beginning 1st April and all are welcome to register.
To get an idea of what delegates found interesting during the conference, the #gapc2020 hashtag on Twitter will give an idea.
The final session also saw the flag being handed over to the GAPC 2021 organisers. The next conference will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, 11-14 October 2021 co-hosted by South African Medical Research Council and the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance with GAPA.