The work on the alcohol policy started more than four years ago, in June 2011. The Royal Government of Bhutan had paved the way already in 2010, when the need to address alcohol harm through alcohol policy featured in the Ministry of Education’s National Youth Policy.
The new policy makers a landmark achievement in the national effort to promote sustainable development.
Bhutan’s comprehensive response to alcohol burden
The new policy is comprehensive, as it addresses the three best buys for preventing and reducing alcohol harm: decreasing alcohol availability, affordability and regulating marketing.
Such a comprehensive approach is urgently needed, as alcohol harm is an obstacle to health and wellbeing, development and economic prosperity in Bhutan.
Alcohol harm in Bhutan
Per capita adult consumption of pure alcohol is 8.47 litres, which is higher than the average global consumption of 6.2 liters. There are 5,407 alcohol outlets in the country today or one outlet per 98 Bhutanese (aged 15 and above). And as unlicensed outlets are believed to be ubiquitous, the outlet density is considerably higher with illegal outlets included in the figures. There pervasiveness of alcohol use in Bhutan causes tremendous alcohol harm:
- The annual costs for hospital treatment of alcoholism alone, which represents a fraction of the total burden, was estimated at BTN 29 to 30 million (ca. half a million USD) from 2005 to 2009.
- Alcohol revenue does not compensate for the economic costs incurred as a result of alcohol harm, such as loss of productivity, and premature deaths.
- About 7% of road accidents are attributed to drink under the influence of alcohol.
- Police reports also show an increase of domestic violence cases related to alcohol. 70% of cases of domestic violence were committed by perpetrators under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is also reported as a contributory factor to homicides.
- Alcohol can also aggravate the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is a serious obstacle to Bhutan’s development as more than 60% of the country’s population is less than 25 years of age.
- Alcohol and poverty form a vicious cycle.