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WHO to Develop a Global Strategy to Reduce Alcohol Related Harm

Geneva, 22 May 2008. The World Health Assembly[1] has adopted a resolution calling on the WHO Director-General to prepare a draft global strategy to reduce harmful consumption of alcohol.

The draft strategy is to be based on all available evidence and existing best practices and address relevant policy options, taking into account the different national, religious and cultural contexts.

In preparing the draft, the Director-General is to collaborate and consult with the Member States as well as to consult with intergovernmental organisations, health professionals, NGOs and economic operators on ways they could contribute to reducing harmful use of alcohol.

The resolution also urges the 193 Member States to collaborate with the WHO's Secretariat in developing the draft strategy and to develop systems to monitor alcohol consumption, the consequences of that consumption and the policy responses to it. It also urges them to consider strengthening national responses to reduce alcohol related harm.

The draft strategy will be discussed at the 63rd World Health Assembly in May 2010.

The assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, Ala Alwan, clarified that all consultations with the economic operators and other stakeholders would comply with WHO rules for appropriate contact with such parties and would avoid conflicts of interest.

The passage of the resolution is the result of a long process, including a resolution in 2005, discussions without conclusion during the 60th WHA last year, informal WHO consultation with Member States and the passing of a draft resolution at the WHO Executive Board in January this year. The draft was proposed by Rwanda on behalf of the African Member States.

The debate at the World Health Assembly was long, with 36 Member States taking the floor to intervene. Most of them thanked the Director General and the Secretariat for the good work done and the report on strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol prepared by the Secretariat. Many countries had strong interests in the issue and the suspense was prolonged until the very end.

According to the aforementioned report (A61/13) , which served as the background for the debate, harmful use of alcohol is one of the main factors contributing to premature deaths and avoidable disease burden worldwide; and has a major impact on public health. Although there are regional, national and local differences in levels, patterns and context of drinking, in 2002 the harmful use of alcohol was estimated to cause about 2.3 million premature deaths worldwide (3.7% of global mortality) and to be responsible for 4.4% of the global burden of disease, even when the protective effects of low and moderate alcohol consumption on morbidity and mortality were taken into consideration.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) has welcomed the passing of the WHA resolution: "We are pleased that at last WHO has responded to the epidemic of alcohol problems that is increasing with growing alcohol consumption in all parts of the world. GAPA calls on WHO to develop a strong, evidence based global strategy to reduce these problems. We particularly note that the resolution properly distinguishes the roles of commercial and other participants in the development of the strategy and rejects WHO collaboration with the alcoholic beverage industry. GAPA looks forward to working with WHO and other civil society organisations in the important task before us."

Further reading

- Resolution EB122/10 from the WHO Executive Board which constituted the starting point for the discussion at the World Health Assembly

- Report by the Secretariat on Strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol

[1] The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the supreme decision-making body for World Health Organisation (WHO). It meets once a year and is attended by delegations from all of WHO's 192 Member States. Its main function is to determine the policies of the Organization. It also appoints the Director-General and supervises the financial policies of the Organization.