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Protecting people from alcohol harm

Networking the Asia Pacific Region to protect people from alcohol harm

Alcohol is the fifth out of 26 risks to health globally but for countries like many in the Asia Pacific region alcohol is the biggest risk to health. The findings from the WHO global burden of disease study, which revealed the extent of the alcohol-related problems, were presented to a regional meeting on alcohol by Dag Revke, WHO representative from Geneva.

A conference centre at Long Bay on Auckland's North Shore has been the scene of the consultation meeting held this weekend between the World Health Organisation and a global alliance on alcohol policy. Seventeen countries, as diverse as Tonga, the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and China, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Mongolia were represented at the meeting.

The meeting was co-organised by SHORE Centre of Massey University and the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance. It was co-sponsored by the World Health Organisation and funded by a number of international aid agencies, including NZAID who brought the Pacific nations to the meeting.

Professor Sally Casswell, SHORE's director, said that the discussion at the meeting confirmed that the Asia Pacific region has experienced rapidly increasing availability and marketing of alcohol brands which, combined with improving economies, has led to young people drinking at an earlier age, more drinking throughout the community and more harm.

"Despite the diversity of cultures at the meeting, the adverse consequences, not only to the drinkers themselves, but to their families and the victims of drunk drivers were unfortunately common experiences."

The meeting heard about the work of the newly formed Indian Alcohol Policy Alliance and the Thai Health Foundation which have had some success at stalling the rapidly increasing alcohol road traffic trauma. Innovative activities at the community level which reflected the countries' cultural background were also discussed at the meeting.

The meeting also heard presentations on the consolidation of the global alcohol industry, its sophisticated marketing and involvement in policy debates, which has created a rapidly expanding threat to low income countries. The meeting decided that a well informed network of non government organisations in the Asia Pacific Region was needed to ensure that accurate information about the harms to communities and the most effective and appropriate policy responses were communicated to governments.

A clear message was sent to the World Health Organisation that, in the coming debates on what is an appropriate global and regional response to the expansion in this region, the NGO sector was ready to assist in making a strong and effective response.

"Of course there is a need for more resources to expand the network and assist country level work but the passion and wisdom brought to the meeting by the NGOs bodes well for the region" said Professor Casswell.

ENDS

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