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Successful Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Bangkok:

“We have enough evidence to act. Now!”

A historic moment! A significant success! Great words were used at the closing of the Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Bangkok 15 February, - and for good reasons. The conference had everything in terms of technical contents, commitment from participants as well as excellent conference facilities and local staff.

Appeal at the opening session by three victims of alcohlMore than 1.200 participants attended the first Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Bangkok, Thailand 13-15 February. 59 countries were represented, and a broad range of stakeholders were present; governments, NGOs, researchers, activists and media.

Already in the opening session of the conference, the role of civil society was emphasized. In his opening remarks, Dr. Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), called for backing from champions to make things happen: “Do not underestimate the opposition. The alcohol industry is rich and powerful. Commercial interests clash with the most effective measures for reducing harmful drinking. Resistance will come, often from well-financed lobbying groups and resistance will need to be overcome. It is gratifying to see such a strong presence of civil society organizations taking part in this conference. Your voices will be critical in overcoming this resistance and persuading governments to take a strong and decisive stand.”

Several of the speakers at the closing of the conference described it as the start of a new era for global alcohol policy actions. “We hope that this will be the beginning of a new global partnership”, said Dr. Krissada Ruengareerat CEO of The Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth).

Dr. Ruengareerat furthermore said that such a partnership may make a great difference in terms of better alcohol policies and improved health and welfare in many countries. This partnership approach was confirmed by Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director for the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO in his closing remarks: “At this conference we have witnessed that the various stakeholders present here are at the same page. WHO needs you, the NGOs, as partners in action. WHO can do some, but together with you we can manage much more”.

The closing session also saw the presentation of the conference declaration and the conclusions from the rapporteurs.

The title «From the Global Alcohol Strategy to National and Local Action”, underlined that the conference was an important step in the process of implementing the WHO Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2010. Co-hosts of the conference were WHO, The Thai ministry of Public Health, ThaiHealth and the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA). FORUT and IOGT International were among the 13 co-sponsors of the conference.

In the conference declaration is a call for action directed at both the governmental and non-governmental sector for supporting and strengthening efforts to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. This includes integrating the issue into national development agendas, increase budgetary allocations, supporting collaboration of WHO with countries and developing effective global governance. The Declaration also calls upon GAPA and its regional affiliates, as well as other relevant international associations and organizations to strengthen the networking, information sharing and collaboration among civil society and professional organizations for reducing the harmful use of alcohol in line with the aims objectives and guiding principles of the Global Strategy.

Both plenary speakers and workshop presenters at the conference came repeatedly back to the need for choosing the “best buys” in prevention of alcohol-related harm. This was then reflected in the summary by the conference rapporteurs: Governments and advocacy groups should give priority to interventions that regulate alcohol prices, physical availability and alcohol marketing.

Many nations reported difficulties in convincing governments to use these most effective interventions, and on many occasions the aggressive lobbying by the alcohol industry was pointed out as one important reason for the lack of political will. Many stories were told about how vested interests use all types of channels and methods to avoid government regulation of alcohol sale. Similarly there were numerous reports of aggressive, irresponsible and culturally insensitive marketing and promotion of alcoholic beverages. A broad range of examples were presented, from traditional billboard advertising to new and sophisticated ways of using sponsorships, events and not the least digital media to recruit new and young drinkers.

The summary by the rapporteurs also stressed that there is now a broad international evidence base, both on the volume of alcohol-related harm and on which interventions that prove to be effective. “We have enough evidence to act. Now! This conference is a call for action at all levels”, concluded the rapporteurs. Their report contained points like:

  • The need to develop coalitions with other health agencies.
  • The need for strong political leadership. Dr. Vladimir Poznyak from the WHO, in his closing remarks, pointed in particular at countries with rising levels of alcohol consumption and weak policy frameworks. 
  • To make private harms, like domestic violence, into public issues and concerns.
  • To break the link between masculinity and drinking and to challenge men to become a part of the solution. 
  • To question Western norms of alcohol use. 
  • To guard public health policies from negative influence from international trade agreements.

The Thai hosts had engaged several hundred staff members to make sure that the conference held a very high standard in all aspects, an ambition that they fulfilled to perfection.

The Bangkok conference was rounded up by handing over the GÀPC flag from this year’s organizers to the hosts of the next conference, South Korea. They will hold the next Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Seoul 7-9 October 2013.

 

 

For more information:

Here is the web site of the Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2012. We expect material from the conference to be posted at this site within short. 

Click here to see the program for GAPC 2012.

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