Alcohol: a key determinant for ill health and an obstacle to development

In the development goals that will follow the Millennium Development Goals alcohol needs to be addressed, says the Global Alcoholhol Policy Alliance. This is the topic of a paper contributed to the consultation by WHO and UNICEF on Health in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

In 2000, world leaders promised to halve extreme poverty by 2015 with a global plan called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs set clear targets for the development agenda, but 2015 is coming closer. Yet, 1.4 billion people still live in extreme poverty. New development targets are needed. Already there are formal and informal processes running in this process. A platform for consultation on the role of health in the post-2015 development agenda is co-convened by WHO and UNICEF, in collaboration with the Government of Sweden and the Government of Botswana. On the online consultation more than 100 papers were submitted from individuals, UN organizations, governments, research centers and civil society organizations.

In a paper contributed to the consultation the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) point out that alcohol is a risk factor for ill-health and should be included in the development agenda.The MDGs state that health is critical to the economic, political and social development of all countries. The health-related MDGs focus on reducing child mortality (no. 4), improving maternal health (no. 5), and combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (no. 6), but do not capture the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Substantial progress has been made in addressing MDGs 4-6; however, there are still important challenges remaining with regard to addressing these MDGs in some regions of the world. The reformulation of globally agreed development goals for the post 2015 period nevertheless is an opportunity to address the lack of a NCD focus. This reformulation needs to be informed by the recognition of emerging challenges as expressed by the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs in 2011 as well as by new knowledge from the recently released Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.

The GAPA paper outlines how alcohol is a major risk to health and development, both through alcohol’s impact on NCDs and through its role in injuries, mental health and other health problems. A considerable alcohol-induced health burden already exists in low- and middle income regions of the world. With development, this burden is likely and has been shown to increase.

Furthermore, alcohol has considerable negative socio-economic impact, through violence, gender-based violence, the drain caused by heavy drinking on meagre family and other resources, and the threat to human capital development posed by youthful initiation of alcohol use. Evidence based strategies to reduce these problems exist and must be employed. The effects of these efforts are readily measurable since good foundations for measurement are already available and in use by WHO.

More information: