Countries must recognize alcohol abuse as grave public health threat

News release

WHO/T. O'Leary

Countries need to recognize that alcohol consumption is a big and growing public health threat and take appropriate action, experts concluded at a WHO regional meeting on the prevention and control of the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) through reduction of alcohol-related harm.

WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo opened the four-day meeting on 10 April by calling alcohol a "chief culprit" behind the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases, which accounts for four out of every five deaths in the Western Pacific.

"Tobacco use, unhealthy diets and sedentary lifetyles play significant roles in this rising tide of noncommunicable diseases," Dr Shin says. "But the fourth risk factor – alcohol – is also a chief culprit for NCD-related death in the Region, and the top factor for disability."

The noncommunicable diseases principally consist of cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes.

In all, alcohol-related harm accounts for approximately 640 000 deaths per year in the Western Pacific. The problem is most serious among adult men younger than 60, among whom 15% of deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption.

Problems with harmful consumption of alcohol go beyond their documented relation to the noncommunicable diseases. Alcohol is also implicated in traffic accidents, violence and crime, of which the total economic cost to countries is 1.3% to 3.3% of gross domestic product.

"That's why the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in 2006 endorsed a Regional Strategy to Reduce Alcohol-related Harm, and why a Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2010," Dr Shin says.

Experts endorsed the so-called "best-buy" strategies for reducing the harms associated with alcohol use. These include raising prices and taxes, controlling the availability of and access to alcoholic beverages, and restricting or banning alcohol marketing.

Hong Kong Director of Health Dr Lam Ping-Yan closed the conference on 13 April with a call for WHO Member States in the Western Pacific to develop their unique domestic action plans for the reduction of alcohol-related harm.

"It is beyond doubt that we all agree on the urgent need in face of the pressing challenge of this growing alcohol epidemic," Dr Lam says.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Xiangdong Wang
Team Leader, Mental Health and Injury Prevention
Tel.: +63 2 528 9858

Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel.: +63 2 528 9992