World Health Organization (WHO) experts will recommend ways to
fight dangers linked to alcohol, including heart and liver disease,
road accidents, suicides and sexually-transmitted infections, a
spokeswoman said on Friday.
The United Nations agency's executive board this week endorsed
efforts to raise awareness about the risks of injury, violence and
illness from the harmful use of alcohol, especially by young people
and pregnant women, Fadela Chaib said.
The 34-member board agreed the WHO should draft a global
strategy to reduce those threats. It may include guidance on the
marketing, pricing and distribution of alcoholic drinks, as well as
health worker training and public awareness campaigns.
The strategy, to be completed in two years, would aim
particularly to protect "all at-risk populations such as young
people and those affected by the harmful drinking of others," Chaib
told a news briefing.
The WHO's 193 member states would need to back the proposal at
their World Health Assembly in May for work on the new strategy to
get underway. This step is generally a formality.
In 2003, the WHO clinched an international treaty aimed at
curbing tobacco use through stronger warnings on cigarette packages
and limits on advertising and sponsorship.
Nordic countries raised concerns about the public health hazards
from alcohol to the WHO more than three years ago.
A report presented to the executive board found that harmful
drinking caused 2.3 million premature deaths worldwide each year,
accounting for nearly 4 percent of global deaths.
It was cited as "a major avoidable risk factor" for
cardiovascular diseases, liver cirrhosis and various cancers, and a
contributor to the spread of diseases including HIV/AIDS.
Alcohol has also been associated with traffic crashes, suicides,
crimes, violence, unemployment and absenteeism. Young people prone
to drinking to intoxication and heavy episodic drinking were found
to be particularly vulnerable.
The WHO advisory board emphasized that any recommendations made
needed to take into account the cultural differences between
countries regarding alcohol, whose consumption is forbidden under
some religions including Islam.
The Global Alcohol Producers' Group, a network of 16 leading
spirits and wine companies including Asahi Breweries of Japan,
India's United Breweries, U.S. wine-maker Constellation Brands and
Molson Coors Brewing, welcomed the WHO move, which it called "a
Abigail Jones, speaking on behalf of the producers, said it was
important that any guidance produced make room for a variety of
approaches to confronting the dangerous uses of alcohol.
"It is a very complex arena, but there is definitely a role for
the WHO to play in helping outline the most appropriate
approaches," Jones said. "There is a place for all of these
measures to be looked at."
(Agencies via China Daily February 5, 2008)