A summary of the web-based consultation on the implementation of the WHO global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol since its endorsement, and the way forward has been prepared by June Leung, SHORE & Whariki Research Centre, Massey University, New Zealand.

Executive summary

A web-based consultation was hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) from 24 October 2019 to 4 November 2019 on the implementation of the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol since its endorsement in 2010. Member states, United Nations (UN) organizations and non-state actors were invited to submit their views on 1) the most important achievements, challenges and setbacks in the strategy’s implementation; and 2) priority areas for future actions to reduce the harmful use of alcohol and strengthen implementation of the strategy.

A total of 189 submissions were received. They included 29 submissions from member states and governmental institutions, four from UN system and other intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), seven from academic institutions, 107 from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and 42 from private sector entities.

Most member states and governmental institutions agreed that while the global strategy served as a basis for national alcohol policy, vested commercial interests have resulted in limited political will to implement or enforce policy. Notable priority areas for future action included fostering partnerships or networking; an international legally binding treaty or framework agreement on alcohol; and monitoring, surveillance and evaluation of interventions.

Similarly, most UN system and IGOs agreed that although the global strategy has provided guidance and support for initiatives to control alcohol use, there was a lack of data on the effectiveness of alcohol control measures and limited implementation of “best buys”. Strengthening of intersectoral partnerships was an important priority for future action.

Academic institutions supported the view that despite some progress, the global strategy has had little impact on reducing alcohol use, possibly due to industry interference, sociocultural norms of alcohol use and low awareness of its harms. More efforts to restrict the industry’s role in policy making; stronger support by WHO for member states in policy implementation; and better monitoring and evaluation of interventions were called for.

NGOs cited WHO’s “best buys”, SAFER initiative, global information system on alcohol and health, and forum for international networking as major achievements. Nonetheless, industry interference as well as trade and economic considerations have hindered progress in implementing “best buy” policies. The majority of NGOs supported a global treaty or legally binding framework for alcohol control. Other notable priority areas included excluding industry from policy making; addressing conflicts of interest; enhancing a multisectoral approach and coalitions; furthering resources to and support from WHO; and curbing alcohol marketing.

Private sector entities exclusively represented alcohol trade associations and social aspects organizations. Major achievements included an emphasis on harmful alcohol use, public-private partnerships, as well as co-regulatory and self-regulatory marketing approaches. An over-emphasis on “best buys” and resistance to industry collaboration were cited as challenges. Notable priority areas included the provision of flexible policy options; a “whole of society” and multisectoral approach; enhanced industry participation in policy development; and the protection of vulnerable groups.

Overall, 78 submissions from all sectors except private sector entities indicated support for a global legally binding treaty to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, as proposed by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA). Such an instrument would potentially foster international cooperation, ensure the achievement of global and national targets for reduction of alcohol use and harm, denormalize alcohol use, curb alcohol industry interference, and counterbalance the effects of international trade and economic treaties on alcohol control policy.