New WHO Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030 to guide global action to reduce alcohol-related harm

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030 will be the new roadmap to guide global action to reduce alcohol-related harm.  African governments will, like others, use this WHO member state sanctioned plan when passing legislation and implementing programmes to reduce alcohol harm. We call on African Ministers of Health and WHO Executive Board Members to actively engage in the deliberations and adoption of the action plan.

Alcohol is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases which account for most premature deaths worldwide. On the African continent, only a third of the population are consumers of alcohol. However, several African member states rank amongst the highest consumers globally. This consumption is largely driven by a binge-drinking culture. Africa also experiences the highest alcohol-attributable burden of disease and injury globally.

The upcoming WHO Executive Board meeting from the 24th to 29th January 2022, where the draft plan will be tabled, is therefore critical for Africa. The meeting offers an opportunity for African governments to ensure the plan includes action areas that will support their efforts to regulate the alcohol industry. The plan has been two years in the making and should be adopted at the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2022.

On 18 January, the East African Alcohol Policy Alliance (EAAPA), the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) and the West African Alcohol Policy Alliance (WAAPA), together with the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), hosted a webinar to discuss why the WHO Alcohol Action Plan matters for Africa.

All four alliances advocate for the adoption of evidence-based alcohol policies to reduce the harm caused by alcohol on the African continent and globally.

During the webinar, SAAPA Regional Coordinator and GAPA Board member, Aadielah Maker Diedericks said: “The African continent is of particular interest to the alcohol industry because of its increasingly youthful population which offers the opportunity to expand their market.”

She explained that the advertising, pricing, distribution, and retail business practices in most African countries drive the binge-drinking culture on the continent, with costly implications for government expenditure on health, policing and social welfare.

It is in this context that the Alliances are calling on government representatives to support the call for an Alcohol Action Plan that includes,

  1. Enhanced protection against industry interference
  2. Regular reporting to the World Health Assembly on implementation
  3. A strong reaffirmation of the importance of the “best buys” contained in the WHO Global Strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol (2010)
  4. Initiation of inter-agency projects on cross-border marketing
  5. Support for a target of a 20% reduction in alcohol per capita consumption
  6. An increase in financial and technical support for efforts to reduce high alcohol harm rates in Africa

Professor Richard Matzopoulos of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and Burden of Diseases and the UCT Faculty of Health Science spoke in the webinar about the impact on public health of the 2020/21 COVID-19 alcohol bans in South Africa. “The findings”, he said “were that injury deaths and non-natural deaths fell drastically when alcohol was removed.” He suggested that this had helped to put alcohol-related harm in sharp focus for the country and that we needed to learn from it.

Boi-Jeneh Jalloh, Executive Director at the Foundation for Rural and Urban Transformation in Sierra Leone, added that multi-stakeholder and sectoral partnerships were critical in attempts to address the multi-dimensional implications of alcohol harm.

Chairperson of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) Professor Sally Casswell said: “Many NGOs and academics, and some country governments, believe a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control (FCAC), similar to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is urgently needed”, nothing that alcohol is the only psychoactive, dependence-producing drug not subject to a global treaty.

Casswell recommended prioritizing on the WHO agenda the issue of ensuring that reporting back to WHO on progress with implementing harm-reduction strategies happens on a more regular basis.

“As things stand, the next phase of reporting back to WHO on progress will not happen until 2030. We feel this is too far off and will allow the industry to continue operating harmfully. We recommend instead that all countries should report biennially”, said Casswell.

Peter Ucko, representing the Tobacco, Alcohol and Gambling Advisory, Advocacy and Action Group (TAG), commented: “Whatever we do we should go to the extreme. We must learn from the tobacco legislation. We must ban alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, totally. Let’s save lives.”

The meeting ended with the adoption, by the four Alliances and their guests, of three resolutions proposed by Maurice Smithers, Director of SAAPA’s country chapter in South Africa which was widely supported by those present. These were:

Conflict of interest

Noting that:

The draft WHO Alcohol Action Plan has given the alcohol industry too much of a role along that of WHO, national government, civil society. We strongly reject this view on grounds that the alcohol industry will not be ‘objective’ partners, given that there is a very direct conflict of interest between the quest for a reduction in alcohol-related harm and the alcohol industry’s desire to maximize their profits.

We resolve to:

Call on the WHO to agree that the alcohol industry should be treated differently to the other three stakeholders and should have no role in the implementation of the Action Plan. They can be consulted, and the Action Plan can suggest actions they can take, but they cannot be equal partners. In the document, therefore, they should be treated separately, and their position and role limited to one paragraph which highlight their conflict of interest with public health policies.

Increasing reporting

Noting that:

There is currently no request for reporting to the WHO governing bodies on the progress of the implementation of the action plan until 2030. We believe this is far too long. In most countries, that the equivalent of two administration terms or more. The purpose of reporting is to measure and evaluate progress – therefore the impact of the reporting process will be far greater if countries have to demonstrate on a more regular basis what they have managed to achieve.

We resolve to:

Call on the WHO to include in the Alcohol Action Plan a requirement that the reporting period for countries be every two years and that each country submits a report on progress directly to the WHO every two years upon which the WHO submits a report to the WHA.

Facilitating the implementation of the Action Plan

Noting that:

It is important for countries on the African continent (and other developing countries in the world) to highlight the need for increased technical assistance and resources to implement the Alcohol Action Plan. As we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and with respect to commitments to made at the various Conference of Parties (COP) on Climate Change, developing countries are not able to implement international agreements without support and equitable access to resources.

We resolve to:

Call on the WHO to include in the Alcohol Action Plan provision for appropriate, adequate, and equitable technical assistance and resources to allow developing countries on the continent (and elsewhere) to fulfil their obligations in respect of the Action Plan.

For more information, please contact:

Aadielah Maker Diedericks, SAAPA Secretariat,
Mobile no. +27 823388308

Issah Ali, WAAPA Secretariat,
Telephone: +233-(0)30-293 6305, +233-(0)24-4057950

Øystein Bakke, GAPA Secretary,
Mobile no. +47 41622135

Sophia Komba, EAAPA Board Chairperson,
Mobile no. +255 715578411