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The Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance established in Johannesburg
A regional forum for NGOs in Southern Africa resulted in the formation of a Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance representing seven countries. Savera Kalideen from Soul City in South Africa was elected the first chair of the Alliance.
Around 45 delegates were gathered in Johannesburg the first week of November for the first Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Forum. They represented civil society organizations from seven countries in the region, as well as NGOs from Kenya, Sierra Leone, Sweden and Norway. The purpose of the Forum was to build competence on the alcohol situation locally and globally, to exchange experiences from policy and prevention work and to discuss a closer regional collaboration.
On the last day of the Forum, the 8th of November, the delegates decided to establish The Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance involving at this point NGOs from South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Madagascar. The Alliance will now apply for affiliation to The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA).
The meeting elected a board for the new alliance. Savera Kalideen from Soul City in South Africa became the first chair while Lovemore Mughandira from Blue Cross Namibia was elected secretary of the board. Other members are Nelson Zakeyu, Drug Fight Malawi; Jonas Ngulube, YMCA Zambia, Fanjanirina Holiarisoa, Blue Cross Madagascar; Mphonyane Mofokeng, Anti Drug Abuse Association of Lesotho and Smart Kachipare, Blue Cross Botswana.
At the opening of the Forum the participants painted a picture, by drawing on their national experiences, of alcohol policy challenges in the region and how alcohol issues are linked to other key development concerns in the Sub-Saharan region. The linkages between alcohol use and poverty, HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence came out as special concerns and so did also the undue interference by the alcohol industry in policy formulation.
Lack of competence among politicians, civil servants and NGO leaders, as well as weak policies and poor implementation of policies, were defined as a serious problem in most countries. The lack of reliable data on the alcohol situation was described as an obstacle both to policy development and effective advocacy work.
The Regional Forum was organized by the two Norwegian NGOs FORUT and Blue Cross together with The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance. Co-sponsors were the WHO Regional Office for Africa, The Medical Research Council of South Africa, International Blue Cross (IFBC) and The African Journal of Drug and Alcohol Studies.
In her opening address the new secretary general of IFBC, Anne Babb, expressed an opinion which later proved to reflect the ambition of all the participants: “We have come here to make a difference”. She made reference to the now existing international evidence-base on effective alcohol policies, a topic which was elaborated by several presenters later in the program.
Dr. Sarah Barber from the WHO country office in South Africa represented The World Health Organization at the opening of the Regional Forum. She presented the WHO Global and Regional Strategies for Reducing the Harmful Use of Alcohol and the particular challenges for African countries in the alcohol field. Dr. Barber concluded by pointing at some key challenges in the way forward with national follow-up in Africa: Firstly, to place alcohol as a country priority, not only for health but for development also. Secondly, to develop comprehensive and multi-sectoral responses which include regulatory measures, pricing policies and community mobilization. Thirdly, to address alcohol as a cross cutting health risk factor, related to both communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and TB and to the so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
In their presentations professor Isidore Obot from Nigeria and dr. Neo Morojele from South Africa elaborated further on the relations between alcohol use and HIV/AIDS, TB and NCDs with a particular emphasis on the African situation. Even though not all causalities are scientifically established, these presentations showed that there is overwhelming evidence that risky alcohol consumption must be addressed if programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, TB and NCDs shall be more effective.
In another sequence of the program Joanne Corrigal from South Africa and Øystein Bakke and Dag Endal from FORUT presented the activities of the multinational alcohol industry, both in Africa and globally. In several rounds of discussions many of the participants gave examples of how vested interests intervene in the policy arena in their respective countries with the purpose of avoiding government regulations which are proven to be effective and which could reduce alcohol consumption and reduce alcohol-related harm.