WHO launches safer alcohol control plan to prevent and reduce alcohol-related deaths

The World Health Organization (WHO) today released SAFER, a new initiative and technical package outlining five high-impact strategies that can help governments reduce the harmful use of alcohol and related health, social and economic consequences

Image Source: Google
Image Source: Google

The WHO-led initiative and action package aim to support global target of reducing harmful use of alcohol by 10% by 2025

SAFER is the newest WHO-led roadmap to support governments in taking practical steps to accelerate progress on health, beat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through addressing the harmful use of alcohol, and achieve development targets.

“We are proud to introduce SAFER – a package of proven interventions to reduce the harms caused by alcohol, and a new partnership to catalyze global action,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “We need governments to put in place effective alcohol control policy options and public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.”

Health impact of alcohol use

Alcohol consumption contributes to more than 3 million deaths globally every year and over 5% of the global burden of disease and injury, according to the recently issued WHO Global Status Report (GSR) on Alcohol and Health 2018. It is also a major risk factor for NCDs, including cancers and cardiovascular diseases, communicable diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS, violence, and injuries. Globally, alcohol consumption is the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disability.

“We have seen too little progress since the endorsement of the ‘Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol’ by the World Health Assembly eight years ago. But SAFER brings new impetus for action,” said WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Svetlana Axelrod.

Dr Axelrod added, “We encourage countries to take action, monitor their progress, and protect alcohol policy development from interference by commercial interests. Support from civil society and donors is critical for success on alcohol control that contributes to reducing poverty, improving gender equality and improving public safety.”

SAFER: What it contains?

SAFER provides five high-impact strategic actions that are prioritised for implementation to promote health and development:

Strengthen restrictions on alcohol availability.

Advance and enforce drink driving countermeasures.

Facilitate access to screening, brief interventions, and treatment.

Enforce bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion.

Raise prices on alcohol through excise taxes and pricing policies.

Action is needed to reduce the burden of alcohol-related harm in low-, middle- and high-income countries.

The scale of the alcohol challenge

According to the GSR, an estimated 2.3 billion people are current alcohol drinkers, but consumption varies across regions. More than a quarter (27%) of all 15 to 19-year-olds are current drinkers, with rates of current drinking highest among this age group in Europe (44%), followed by the Americas and the Western Pacific (both 38%).

Current trends and projections point to an expected increase in global alcohol per capita consumption in the next 10 years, particularly in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions and the Region of the Americas.

Almost all (95%) countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half use other price strategies such as banning below-cost selling or volume discounts. The majority of countries have some type of restriction on beer advertising, with total bans most common for television and radio but less common for the internet and social media.

Partnership key for alcohol control

Multiple partners, from governments to civil society organizations, have lent their support to the new SAFER initiative.

“In Sri Lanka, we are showing that alcohol control is a cost-effective and impactful tool to help promote sustainable development, including health for all,” said H.E. President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena. “I welcome the new SAFER initiative as it has potential to make the world much safer, healthier and more prosperous.”

Dr Adam Karpati, Senior Vice President of Public Health Programs at Vital Strategies, a global public health organization, said: “The harmful use of alcohol is a major – yet often unaddressed – public health threat. SAFER provides clear guidance to governments on how to save lives on a large scale. The greatest impact will be achieved by implementing all the SAFER interventions in full.”

Kristina Sperkova, International President of IOGT International, the premier global social movement for alcohol prevention and control, added: “In communities and societies around the world, we see an urgent need for action to prevent and reduce alcohol harm. Investing in the alcohol policy best buys as packaged in SAFER is scientifically sound and economically smart, generating considerable returns on investment.”

Alcohol control essential for development

As part of the SDGs, the global community has committed to 17 goals with 169 targets. Alcohol is specifically addressed in the SDGs; target 3.5 is “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.” Alcohol significantly impacts several other SDG health goals, including: reducing premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030 (3.4); traffic-related mortality (3.6); and tuberculosis (3.2). Addressing alcohol-related harms would positively benefit other SDG goals, such as reducing violence against women.

The WHO Global Monitoring Framework for NCDs includes a target to reduce harmful use of alcohol by at least 10% by 2025. WHO’s five-year strategic plan, the 13th General Programme of Work 2019-2023 (GPW13), notes that action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol is a global priority.