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Reducing alcohol-related harm

Auckland, New Zealand, 20 September 2006

WHO draws up measures to reduce alcohol-related harm Fifty-seventh session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific 18-22 September 2006, Auckland, New Zealand

The rising consumption of alcohol in the Western Pacific Region is reaching alarming proportions, especially among young people, but there is poor public awareness of the harmful effects of alcohol abuse.

Despite the fact that 45% to 75% of young people in the Region consume alcohol regularly, there is a low level of involvement by communities and nongovernmental organizations in responding to the problem.

Concerned by the growing public health problems associated with the harmful consumption of alcohol and the increasing trend in hazardous drinking, the World Health Organization Regional Committee for the Western Pacific considered a strategy to tackle the issue.

The strategy focuses on reducing the harmful use of alcohol by regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages, ensuring adequate public information is available about the damaging consequences of excessive alcohol use and implementing health promotion programmes as well as by providing support to civic and nongovernmental organizations to help them respond effectively to the problem. The strategy provides guidelines for action based on the specific needs and situations in Member States in the Region.

Conservative estimates show some 76.3 million people experience alcohol-use disorders worldwide. According to the WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004, 5.5% of the entire disease burden in the Western Pacific Region is attributed to the harmful use of alcohol, significantly higher than the global level of 4%.

The Regional Committee, WHO's governing body in the Western Pacific, noted that while alcohol consumption in some countries and areas in the Region is levelling off, the reverse is happening in others. The onset of drinking at earlier ages as well as binge or problem drinking among young people are of particular concern.

In Japan, for example, nearly 10% of young people are defined as problem drinkers.

In Pacific island countries, binge drinking is a common practice. Per capita alcohol consumption in the Region has been increasing in the majority of the Member States since the mid-1980s.

In China, per capita annual alcohol consumption for youth 15 years and older rose to 4.45 litres in 2001 from 0.75 litres in 1970. Harmful use of alcohol has adverse health, social and economic consequences. Heavy drinking is associated with more than 60 diseases and other health conditions including mental disorders and suicide, several types of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver, as well as intentional and unintentional injuries.

Recent studies suggest a link between alcohol-use disorders and HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases because heavy drinking leads to high risk behaviour. Excessive alcohol use carries a high degree of co-morbidity with other substance-use disorders, including nicotine dependence.

Alcohol abuse has gender-specific negative consequences, such as unwanted pregnancies, harm to the foetus and an increased risk of breast cancer. The negative social consequences of heavy drinking include aggressive behaviour and family disturbances.

Alcohol is a significant cause of reduced and lost productivity.

Traffic accidents across the Region are strongly related to drinking, with 20% to 50% of traffic-accident fatalities related to alcohol use.

For example, in the Republic of Korea, traffic accidents and casualties associated with alcohol increased by about half between 1994 and 2004. Accidents, in general, are associated with alcohol In Papua New Guinea, an estimated 90% of trauma admissions to hospital emergency wards are related to alcohol.

A study in Mongolia found that alcohol was involved in 58.4% of all homicides. Alcohol was involved in 62% of all homicides in Guam. In 70% of cases of sexual assault against women in public places in French Polynesia, the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol.

In Samoa, alcohol was found to be the second most frequent cause of violence against women.

In May 2005, the Fiftieth World Health Assembly, in resolution WHA58.26, urged Member States to develop, implement and evaluate effective strategies and programmes for reducing the negative health and social consequences of the harmful use of alcohol.


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