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The Montevideo Roadmap is weak on alcohol.

Civil society networks call for stronger action against non-communicable diseases

The Montevideo Roadmap is weak on addressing alcohol as a risk factor for non-communicable diseases, comment three large global NGO networks. They all recommend increased use of fiscal measures like alcohol taxation to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases.

In October world leaders will meet in Montevideo, Uruguay to promote health and move forward to combat non-communicable diseses (NCDs), such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes. The conference is organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) with the President of Uruguay (picture below) and the country's Ministry of Health.

Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez.jpgPresently governments are negotiating an outcome document from the Uruguay conference, the so-called Montevideo Roadmap, and NGOs are given an opportunity to comment on the draft. In 2018 the United Nations member states will further meet for a new High-Level meeting to discuss the progress in combating the increasing health burden from non-communicable diseases. 

The NCD Alliance, IOGT International and the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) have all raised alcohol in their comments to the draft Montevideo Roadmap.

The NCD Alliance points at the lack of a separate paragraph in the Roadmap on addressing alcohol as a risk factor for non-communicable diseases. The Alliance underlines thatevidence-based strategies are available. Nevertheless the implementation of the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy from 2010 has been slow.

Available evidence

IOGT International claims that, given the available evidence, the Roadmap should cover alcohol as a risk factor for NCDs substantially better. “Evidence shows that there is a strong link between alcohol and NCDs, particularly cancer, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, pancreatitis and diabetes”.

In their statement, The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) raises the issue of low and middle income countries where the health burden from NCDs are on the rise and where health systems are too weak to cope with new health burdens. “The document is very weak on alcohol. Successful prevention is key”, argues GAPA and calls for a stronger text on alcohol as a risk factor for NCDs.

Warning against vested interests

All the three networks raise concern over the influence of vested interest like multinational alcohol companies in the formulation of health policies and in the NCD process in particular. Says, the NCD Alliance: “We acknowledge that it is necessary to enact policies independently of conflicts of interest in order to reverse the extent of alcohol related NCD and other harms”. GAPA takes a similar approach and argues that the Montevideo Roadmap should take heed of the challenge by unhealthy industries to undermine public health policies.

IOGT International, as well as the two other networks, refers to the so-called Best Buys for NCDs. The use of fiscal measures has been defined by WHO as one of the three “best buys” to reduce alcohol consumption as well as other NCD risk factors. Now all three networks argue that the Montevideo Roadmap should reinforce the importance of taxation on alcohol and other harmful products.

Taxation on harmful products

The NCD Alliance recommends the use of “additional interventions that have the capacity to generate revenues such as taxation of tobacco, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages as well as impact investment”. GAPA claims that potentially good ambitions on taxation in a former version of the Roadmap have been weakened by softening language such as “where appropriate” and “will consider”. GAPA therefore “calls on Member States to stand up for stronger language on well accepted, effective measures to reduce the risk factors, including alcohol”.

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