Opening remarks by Dr Shin Young-soo WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the WHO Regional Meeting on NCD Prevention and Control through the reduction of Alcohol-related harm

Hong Kong, China
10 April 2012




I am pleased to be able join you this morning for this Regional Meeting on NCD Prevention and Control through the Reduction of Alcohol-Related Harm.

First, I would like to thank the Government of Hong Kong (China) for their hospitality in hosting this meeting and commitment to this important area of work.

The excellent work being done in Hong Kong (China) on NCDs and risk factors highlights the level of progress that can be achieved with strong commitment.

I am pleased to see in the programme that we will have the opportunity to hear more first-hand about Hong Kong's experiences in several areas, such as drunk driving, civil society action and treatment and care.

As you are aware, 2011 was a milestone for NCD prevention and control with the United Nations Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases in September in New York.

We now have a global mandate and commitment to fight NCDs.

Then, in October the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific endorsed a resolution expanding and intensifying NCD prevention and control in the Region.

Across the 37 countries and areas that form the WHO Western Pacific Region, four out of every five deaths are caused by noncommunicable diseases. These diseases can and should be prevented.

Certainly, tobacco use, unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles play significant roles in this rising tide of noncommunicable diseases.

But the fourth risk factor —alcohol — is also a chief culprit. In fact, alcohol is the third most important risk factor for death in the Region, and the top factor for disability.

Public health data and research paint a grim picture. Several countries in the Region are experiencing an increase in alcohol consumption and in related harms.

Fifteen per cent of deaths of men between the ages of 15 and 59 are attributable to alcohol in the Region. The corresponding figure for women is only five per cent.

In absolute terms, the death toll is an estimated 642 000 in the Western Pacific Region. And the disease burden related to alcohol is between five and 10 per cent.

The proportion of traffic accidents, violence and crime related to alcohol is also unacceptably high. The economic cost of alcohol to societies ranges from 1.3 to 3.3 per cent of a country's gross domestic product.

In the case of China, those figures mean an average cost of more than 250 billion dollars a year. Even in a country the size of the Philippines, the cost of alcohol averages nearly 9 billion dollars a year.

That is serious money.

And it is all about money. With increased affluence, countries become bigger targets for multinational beverage companies looking to increase sales.

Changes in drinking patterns mean less people are abstaining from alcohol. More women and young people are drinking, and those who drink are tending to drink more heavily.

The implications of alcohol for NCDs go beyond the strong health links with cancer and cardiovascular disease. Alcohol may also increase non-adherence to treatment regimes of NCDs.

Alcohol can contribute to obesity by increasing caloric intake and reduce the quality of diet and physical activity, especially when consumed heavily.

The links are even more alarming when you consider alcohol's role in the broader aspects of injury, violence and mental health.

That’s why the WHO Region for the Western Pacific developed a Regional Strategy to Reduce Alcohol-Related Harm in 2006.

Since that time, we have also developed a Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol, which was adopted at World Health Assembly in 2010.

The evidence base is clear. We know what works to reduce the negative consequences of drinking.

WHO has identified so-called "best-buy interventions" for alcohol. The three most cost-effective interventions are:
1. raising the price,
2. restricting access, and
3. restricting or banning advertising and marketing.

Although the health sector identifies and treats individual patients, the most effective interventions are in other sectors, such as finance, trade and industry.

Consequently, the battle against NCDs must be a "whole-of-government" and "whole-of-society" approach that engages all these sectors.

The WHO Western Pacific Region has focused on assisting countries to set up multi-sectoral mechanisms to ensure the engagement of key government sectors. WHO provides technical input for drafting evidence-based and public health-oriented national policies and alcohol legislation.

Now, the challenge for Member States is to implement the strategies and effective interventions in their social, religious and economic contexts. What works in Mongolia or the Republic of Korea might not be the best solution for Cambodia.

You have quite a bit of work before you these next four days. You will review and discuss the effective interventions and plan in-country activities as follow up.

I look forward to hearing the outcome of your discussions and seeing the fruits of your plans and activities for many years to come.

Thank you.