GAPC 2020 in Dublin, Ireland

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.

Health Minister, Simon Harris TD delivering opening address at Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC) 2020
“When the public health lobby get together, we can achieve great things,” Minister of Health, Simon Harris TD said.

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.

GAPA Chair Professor Sally Casswell addressing GAPC 2020
GAPA Chair Professor Sally Casswell.

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.

GAPC handing over from 2020 to 2021 Cape Town, Sally Casswell, Denise Keogh, Joe Barry, Charles Parry, Maurice Smithers, Mandy Solomon,
Handing over the flag to the Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2021 in Cape Town. From GAPA, Professor Sally Casswell, from Ireland Denise Keogh and Joe Barry, from South Africa, Professor Charles Parry, Maurice Smithers and Mandy Solomon.

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.

GAPC 2020

GAPA position paper

24 October 2020 GAPA issued a position paper on the implementation of WHO’s global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol during the first decade since its endorsement, and the way forward. In this paper the GAPA highlights important elements for consideration and encourages its own network and the wider the global health community to take part in a web-based consultation conducted by the World Health Organization. The World Health Assembly in May 2019  requested the WHO Director-General “to report to the Seventy-third World Health Assembly in 2020, through the Executive Board, on the implementation of WHO’s global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol during the first decade since its endorsement, and the way forward”.  Comments from the consultation will be taken into consideration in the process of developing the above-mentioned report.

See more about the WHO web-based consultation, including the discussion paper and submission form, here.

Read the GAPA position paper here:

GAPC 2020 to be held in Dublin, Ireland

Sally Casswell, Chair of the Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPA), Simon Harris TD, Irish Minister of Health and Catherine Byrne TD, Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, announced today that the 6th Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2020 (GAPC 2020) will be held in Dublin, Ireland 9-11 March 2020.

GAPC is the leading forum for the world’s alcohol policy makers, advocates, researchers, civil society activists and practitioners. Building on the strong commitment and recent alcohol policy interventions in the country, Ireland is the perfect host for GAPC 2020.

The conference in Ireland will have the theme: “Alcohol Equity and Global Health: the benefit of alcohol control for sustainable development for all.” It maintains 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.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister Harris said: “The enactment of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill sent a message to the world that Ireland is serious about addressing the harms of alcohol in our country. That commitment has now been recognised by this invitation to host the next Global Alcohol Policy Conference. The conference will provide an excellent opportunity to reinforce the public health message about alcohol and to share best practice from across the world on addressing this important issue.”

Sally Casswell, Chair of GAPA says: “We are very enthusiastic about co-hosting the GAPC 2020 in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the alcohol policy NGO community in Ireland. It is a fitting acknowledgement of the great efforts made by the government of Ireland to reduce alcohol related harm. The need for evidence- based alcohol policies has never been more pronounced including in low and middle- income countries and we hope to raise funds to facilitate participation from around the world.  The conference is an opportunity to engage in fruitful discussions and exchange of ideas in a unique atmosphere, free from the vested interests of the alcohol industry. This is an important part of GAPA’s portfolio of activities aimed to fulfil our mission: to promote evidence- based alcohol policies free from commercial interest.”

The previous GAPCs were held in Melbourne, Australia in 2017; Edinburgh, Scotland (2015); Seoul, South Korea (2013); Bangkok, Thailand (2012); and Syracuse, USA (2000).  Civil society organisations, academic institutions, funding agencies and others free from any ties to the alcohol industry are invited to contact the organisers to explore co-sponsorship opportunities for the conference. 

Visit the GAPC 2020 conference website

PMAC Side meeting: Framework Convention on Alcohol Control: Why and How?

GAPA Chair Sally Casswell
GAPA Chair Sally Casswell opening the PMAC side meeting “Framework Convention on Alcohol Control: Why and How”

On 29 and 30 January, prior to the PMAC, GAPA co-hosted two side meetings. One was a half-day session on “Framework Convention on alcohol Control (FCAC): Why and How” together with IOGT International, Thai Health Promotion Foundation, Third World Network, International Health Policy Program, Thailand and National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA), Sri Lanka. Dough Webb from UNDP moderated and GAPA Chair Sally Casswell gave the main introduction in an event which also included the following speakers and panellists:

  • Professor Kumnuan, Thai Health/GAPA Board Member
  • Pubudu Sumanasekara, International Vice President, IOGT
  • International, GAPA Board member
  • Dr Palitha Abeykoon, NATA, Sri Lanka
  • Sanya Reid Smith, Third World Network
  • Øystein Bakke, GAPA Secretary
  • Tungamirai Zimonte, Board Member, IOGT International
  • Dr TRAN Tuan, Chairman Viet Nam Noncommunicable Diseases Prevention Alliance
  • Dr. Supreda, ThaiHealth, CE, Thai Health
  • Paula Johns, NCD Alliance Board Member, GAPA Board Member
  • Issah Ali, Executive Director, VALD, GAPA Board Member
  • Professor Robin Room, Researcher, La Trobe University, Melbourne

The room with a capacity of 50 people was overfilled; there were good presentations, active participation in group discussions and a good debate in the plenary.

In addition GAPA was involved as co-hosts in the side meeting “Advancing SAFER – the new WHO-led initiative to reduce alcohol related harm globally” together with United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on NCD, IOGT International, NCD Alliance and Vital Strategies.

GAPA activities at the Prince Mahidol Award Conference 2019

Interventions about alcohol policy received interest and was mentioned in social media

Several GAPA representatives participated in the Prince Mahidol Award Conference (PMAC) in Bangkok 31 January–3 February. Alcohol received quite a bit of attention in the conference and was mentioned by many speakers and in interventions from the floor, both in the plenary and parallel sessions as well as on Twitter (#PMAC2019).

GAPA Chair, Professor Sally Casswell spoke in the plenary session “Address Determinants of NCD: the Whole of Government and Systems Response”, and in the parallel session, “Building Ethical Systems for Public Interest in the National Response to NCDs”. In addition Ms Aadielah Maker Diedericks from the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance spoke in the parallel session about Commercial Determinants of Health and the experience from alcohol situation in South Africa.

Any mention of alcohol also seemed to be well received by the audience. Many new, young voices have taken this up in social media.

Professor Sally Casswell spoke in the plenary session “Address Determinants of NCD: the Whole of Government and Systems Response”

Alcohol was also mentioned in the PMAC Conference statement:

“Recognizing that alcohol remains the only psychoactive and dependence-producing substance with significant global impact on population health that is not controlled at the international level by legally-binding regulatory frameworks; that although evidence is available on the most cost-effective ‘best buy’ actions which include increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages, enacting and enforcing bans or comprehensive restrictions on exposure to alcohol advertising across all types of media, and enacting and enforcing restrictions on the physical availability of retailed alcohol; these are yet to be fully implemented;”

Side meeting: Framework Convention on Alcohol Control: Why and How?

GAPA Chair Sally Casswell

GAPA Chair Sally Casswell opening the PMAC side meeting “Framework Convention on Alcohol Control: Why and How”

On 29 and 30 January, prior to the PMAC, GAPA co-hosted two side meetings. One was a half-day session on “Framework Convention on alcohol Control (FCAC): Why and How” together with IOGT International, Thai Health Promotion Foundation, Third World Network, International Health Policy Program, Thailand and National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA), Sri Lanka. Dough Webb from UNDP moderated and GAPA Chair Sally Casswell held the main introduction in an event which also included the following speakers and panellists:

  • Professor Kumnuan, Thai Health/GAPA Board Member
  • Pubudu Sumanasekara, International Vice President, IOGT
  • International, GAPA Board member
  • Dr Palitha Abeykoon, NATA, Sri Lanka
  • Sanya Reid Smith, Third World Network
  • Øystein Bakke, GAPA
  • Tungamirai Zimonte, Board Member, IOGT International
  • Dr TRAN Tuan, Chairman Viet Nam Noncommunicable Diseases Prevention Alliance
  • Dr. Supreda, ThaiHealth, CE, Thai Health
  • Paula Johns, NCD Alliance Board Member, GAPA Board Member
  • Issah Ali, Executive Director, VALD
  • Robin Room, Researcher, La Trobe University, Melbourne

The room with a capacity of 50 people was overfilled; there were good presentations, active participation in group discussions and a good debate in the plenary.

In addition GAPA was involved as co-hosts in the side meeting “Advancing SAFER – the new WHO-led initiative to reduce alcohol related harm globally” together with United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on NCD, IOGT International, NCD Alliance and Vital Strategies.

Endorsments of Global Fund letter

In a joint open letter sent 1 February 2018 to the The Global Fund; GAPA, IOGT International and the NCD Alliance voiced deep concern and urged to immediately end the recently announced partnership with Heineken. The letter was endorsed by 93 organisations and networks (as of February 28, 2018). Read the letter here.

  1. ACT Health Promotion, Brazil
  2. Actis – Norwegian Policy Network on Alcohol and Drugs
  3. Alcohol Action New Zealand
  4. Alcohol and Drug Information Center (ADIC), Sri Lanka
  5. Alcohol Focus Scotland
  6. Alcohol Healthwatch, New Zealand
  7. Alcohol Justice, USA
  8. Alcohol Policy Network in Europe (APN)
  9. Alcohol Policy Youth Network (APYN), Europe
  10. AV-OG-TIL (Campaign network for alcohol free zones), Norway
  11. Blue Cross International
  12. Blue Cross Norway
  13. Blue Cross in Tchad
  14. Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (REDBOL)
  15. Civil Society Network on Substance and Drug Abuse (csnETsda), Nigeria
  16. Center for Youth Eduction (CEM), Bosnia and Herzegovina
  17. Council of Churches in Namibia
  18. DiGNIDAD Coalition, Philippines
  19. Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP), Netherlands
  20. Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Platform, Malawi
  21. East African Alcohol Policy Alliance
  22. Emonyo Yefwe International, Kenya
  23. European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare)
  24. European Center for Monitoring Alcohol Marketing (EUCAM)
  25. European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)
  26. Estonian Temperance Union (AVE)
  27. FORUT, Germany
  28. FORUT, Norway
  29. Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Australia
  30. Framework Convention on Global Health Alliance  (FCGH), Switzerland
  31. Ghana NCD Alliance
  32. Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), Liberia
  33. Health and Trade Network (HaT)
  34. Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth (HRIDAY), India
  35. Healthy Caribbean Coalition
  36. Healthy Lanka Alliance for Development, Sri Lanka
  37. Healthy Latin American Coalition (CLAS, Coalición Latinoamérica Saludable)
  38. Interamerican Heart Foundation
  39. International Network on Brief Interventions for Alcohol and other Drugs (INEBRIA)
  40. International Pediatric Association
  41. Institute for Alcohol Studies, UK
  42. Institute for Research and Development (UTRIP), Slovenia
  43. Institute of Leadership and Development (INSLA), Ghana
  44. IOGT Gambia
  45. IOGT Germany
  46. IOGT movement, Iceland
  47. IOGT Norway
  48. IOGT-NTO Movement, Sweden
  49. IOGT Poland
  50. Kawempe Youth Development Association (KYDA), Uganda
  51. League Against Intoxicants, Norway
  52. Lithuanian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition (NTAKK)
  53. Milestones Rehabilitation Foundation, Nigeria
  54. National Council Against Smoking, South Africa
  55. NCD Alliance, Malawi
  56. NCD Alliance Lanka, Sri Lanka
  57. NCD Child
  58. New Dawn, Zambia
  59. New Vois Association of the Phils. Inc. (NVAP), Philippines
  60. Nepal NCD Alliance
  61. Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network (NordAN), Northern Europe
  62. Norwegian Cancer Society
  63. Ohaha Family Foundation, Nigeria
  64. People Against Drug Dependence and Ignorance (PADDI), Nigeria
  65. Safe Sociable London Partnership, UK
  66. Students’ Campaign Against Drugs (SCAD), Kenya
  67. Slovenian Coalition for Public Health, Environment and Tobacco Control
  68. South African NCD Alliance
  69. Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance- Zambia
  70. Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance
  71. Stop Drink Network, Thailand
  72. Sri Lanka Alcohol Policy Alliance
  73. Teamcoby, Nigeria
  74. The Cancer Association of South Africa
  75. Salvation Army, Norway Iceland and The Faeroes
  76. The Wellbeing Initiative, Nigeria
  77. UDK Consultancy, Malawi
  78. UK Health Forum, United Kingdom
  79. United States Alcohol Policy Alliance
  80. Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)
  81. Vision for Alternative Development (VALD), Ghana
  82. Vital Strategies
  83. WEMOS, Netherlands
  84. West African Alcohol Policy Alliance
  85. Wimmera Drug Action Taskforce, Australia
  86. WomanHealth Philippines
  87. World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF International)
  88. World Medical Association (WMA)
  89. World Stroke Organization
  90. World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU)
  91. Women’s Coalition Against Cancer (WOCACA), Malawi
  92. Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network (YP-CDN)
  93. Zambia NCD Alliance

Constructive meeting is first step towards ending Global Fund’s ill-advised partnership with Heineken, though concerns remain

The inappropriate partnership between the Global Fund and Heineken was the topic of discussion between Marijke Wijnroks, Interim Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and representatives of IOGT International, the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, and NCD Alliance last Friday in Geneva. During the meeting the civil society representatives underscored concerns over the partnership expressed in a public letter on 1 February.

Close to 100 organisations endorsing the letter, prominent global health and development experts and representatives of Global Fund donor governments Norway and Sweden are resolute that a partnership between the alcohol industry and a global health fund is entirely incompatible with our shared vision of health for all and sustainable development.

Comments made by incoming Executive Director Peter Sands in the days since the meeting however underscore remaining concerns that the Global Fund does not see this partnership with Heineken as incompatible with public health and sustainable development goals.

While partnerships can indeed be positive, Sands’ latest comments to The Lancet indicate that he doesn’t sufficiently heed the concerns voiced in the health and development sector about partnering with a harmful commodity industry, particularly relating to benefits realised by these businesses, such as implied endorsement and access to high level decision makers.

To date no decision has been taken on whether or not the Global Fund will end its partnership with the Dutch brewer, but civil society remains hopeful that the Fund’s board will review and agree to end the partnership

“In the meeting we elaborated on a host of key issues the Global Fund had clearly missed in their due diligence and review of partnering with an alcohol company. Therefore, the decision to discontinue the partnership is imperative. We are committed to supporting the Global Fund in both crafting better risk assessment guidelines and in tackling alcohol as major risk factors for people and communities affected by TB and HIV/AIDS,” explained Kristina Sperkova, International President of IOGT International.

Øystein Bakke, Secretary of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, reiterated in the meeting that the partnership was assisting Heineken in building their corporate image and indirectly facilitating increased sales and the subversion of effective alcohol policy in Africa going counter to public health objectives, including Global Funds own focus on HIV/AIDS and TB.

Promoting health and sustainable development is fundamentally in conflict with the alcohol industry’s aim of increasing sales of a product which is a recognised risk factor of disease and injury to increase profit margins. The alcohol industry uses these types of partnerships for access to the public health policy making process in order to obstruct and derail high-impact, evidence-based alcohol policies – a familiar strategy from the tobacco industry, which alcohol companies are closely connected with.

The civil society representatives present at the meeting welcomed the frank and constructive nature of the discussions and the Global Fund’s openness to review its criteria and due diligence processes for partnerships in light of concerns and evidence raised. The Global Fund also expressed interest in joining a dialogue on commercial determinants and (in-)compatible partnerships among global health and development agencies and international organisations.

“The challenge posed by commercial determinants of health is massive, and the question of what does and does not constitute compatible health partnerships in the SDG era is a critical issue that calls for urgent dialogue among the health and development community. We call on the World Health Organisation and the UN Interagency Task Force on NCDs to convene a high-level dialogue among UN entities with the aim of making concrete recommendations on dealing with the industry interference impeding progress on improving global health,” said Katie Dain, Chief Executive Officer of the NCD Alliance.

In advance of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs later this year, the UN Secretary General’s report on prevention and control of NCDs[1] published last week noted concerns around industry interference in policy making, and that while multi-stakeholder partnerships are important to reach the ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals, provisions need to be established to address the commercial determinants of NCDs including to safeguard against industry interference.

Commonalities between the tactics of unhealthy commodity industries, such as the tobacco and alcohol industry, and coherent public health strategies to address commercial determinants of health were among the issues discussed during the World Congress on Tobacco or Health taking place in Cape Town this past week.

ABOUT

IOGT International is the premier global network combining evidence-based policy solution with community-based interventions to prevent and reduce alcohol harm.

Global Alcohol Policy Alliance is a network of non-governmental organisations and people working in public health agencies who share information on alcohol issues and advocate evidence-based alcohol policies, “free from commercial interests.”

The NCD Alliance is a unique civil society network uniting 2,000 civil society organisations in more than 170 countries dedicated to improving non-communicable diseases (NCD) prevention and control worldwide.

[1] UN SG’s Report on prevention & control of NCDs: http://bit.ly/UNSGreportNCDsEN

GAPC2017 Mobilising for change

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC2017), Mobilising for change: Alcohol policy and the evidence for action, was held from 4-6 October 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. 

David Jernigan

Prof David Jernigan presenting the Melbourne Communique

In his summary at the closing of the GAPC2017 Professor David Jernigan, chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, reported the hard facts about the conference:

  • 331 delegates,
  • 40 countries represented,
  • three thematic pre-conferences,
  • nine plenary sessions,
  • 20 concurrent sessions and 12 workshops.
  • A total of 120 oral presentations

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), and National Alliance for Action on Alcohol Harm (NAAA) hosted this important international conference.

The GAPCs, organised every second year, have become the leading forum for the world’s alcohol policy makers, researchers and practitioners. Melbourne, Australia was fifth such event, following the successful conferences in USA (2000), Thailand (2012), South Korea (2013) and Scotland (2015). In the closing session the GAPC flag was handed over to Pubudu Sumanasekara from Sri Lanka, which will be the host country in 2019.

GAPC2017 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. A number of presentations addressed aspects of how the international drinks industry is pushing new markets in low and middle income countries through policy.

The conference forged links between evidence and action, using rigorous alcohol policy research to inform effective responses at local, state, national and international levels. In the final session the Conference Communique (pdf) was presented.

The DrinkTank website is full of documentation, post event updates and videos from the conference.
More information about the conference is available at the GAPC2017 website.

See the video from GAPC 2017:

Some pictures from the conference

WHO Forum on alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviour

26-28 June 2017 WHO held the Forum on alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviour with a primary goal to enhance public health actions in these areas by strengthening partnerships and collaboration among public health oriented organizations, networks and institutions. More information about the Forum is available at the WHO website.

During the High Level segment at the first day, GAPA Secretary, Øystein Bakke, made the following intervention:

Chair,

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance is an international network of non-governmental organisations and people working in public health agencies who share information on alcohol issues and advocate evidence-based alcohol policies, “free from commercial interests.”

Having followed the development of the Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol and later the implementation of it over the years, we see that the resources allocated to addressing these harms are miniscule. New developments like cross border marketing, including in social media, and economic treaties only exacerbate the situation. The low and middle income countries are targeted and they are the ones who are going to provide the future profits of the multinational alcohol industry. These countries lack the resources to stem the tide. And changing this is not easy, as pointed out in an intervention in the NCD debate at the recent World Health Assembly. Ghana, on behalf of the whole African region pointed out: The glaring and continued underfunding of work to accelerate implementation of NCD prevention and control measures in the region needs to be addressed, particularly in the area of industry interference that block measures to implement domestic taxes on health-harming products in order to ensure the self-financing of national responses.”

We are convinced that a legally binding instrument to strengthen the public health response to harmful use of alcohol is needed. We were encouraged by observing the debate at the WHA where Sri Lanka, on behalf of 11 SEARO countries; Estonia on behalf of the three Baltic states; and other countries like Botswana and Norway pointed to the problems mentioned and asked the DG to initiate and resource an Expert Committee to report on the alcohol control situation and progress. More than 10 years have passed since the Expert Committee on alcohol met last time. Let this be the first step – it is now time that bold steps are taken – and that resources are mobilised to support them.

70th World Health Assembly

Alcohol brought up in WHA NCD debate

A number of interventions by Member States of the World Health Organization emphasized the need to address alcohol in the recent debate about non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in May.

Sri Lanka, speaking on behalf of 11 countries of the South East Asia Region of WHO (SEARO), pointed to the considerable harm caused by alcohol, both in their region and in the world. Said the representative from Sri Lanka: “In the context of the preparation for the UN HLM on the prevention and control of NCDs in 2018, 11 member states of South East Asia believe harmful use of alcohol is a major issue in need of urgent attention. The last Expert Committee on this topic met in 2006 and the situation has changed markedly since then especially with regard to cross- border marketing including in the social media. Therefore, SEARO member states request the DG to initiate and resource an Expert Committee to report on alcohol control situation and progress prior to the UNHLM in 2018.”

The request for a new Expert Committee was also supported in a statement by Estonia on behalf of the three Baltic states. Referring to the intervention from Sri Lanka, Estonia said “We share their concerns. The harmful use of alcohol clearly needs more attention at the WHO level.” Estonia pointed to the side event on “Alcohol marketing in the digital age”, that they co-sponsored in last year’s WHA.

Norway and Botswana also supported Sri Lanka’s proposal for a new Expert Committee to be set up by WHO. In the debate several countries, including Thailand, Liberia, Vietnam, Zambia, Panama, Canada, Nigeria, Uruguay, Brazil, and Surinam mentioned alcohol in the NCD context.

While Ghana, speaking on behalf of the 47 countries of the African Region, did not specifically mention alcohol, their interventions included concerns about underfunding and industry interference: “The glaring and continued underfunding of work to accelerate implementation of NCD prevention and control measures in the region needs to be addressed, particularly in the area of industry interference that block measures to implement domestic taxes on health-harming products in order to ensure the self-financing of national responses.”