Norway signed a two-year agreement on March 2021 with the World Health Organization (WHO) for an amount of 220 Million NOK (US$ 26 million). With the new agreement Norway’s goal is to support interventions to reduce death and disability from NCDs, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and mental health conditions, and their risk factors including alcohol and tobacco in LMICs.
The WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health is one action that will receive Norwegian funding. This initiative includes equal pathways of care for NCDs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Myanmar, and Nepal. The new agreement also helps fund key activities reducing the burden of NCD risk factors, including action to reduce alcohol harm. Norway is the very country in the world to support the WHO SAFER initiative with its alcohol policy solutions blueprint in general and health taxes on unhealthy products such as alcohol in particular.
In November, 2019 Norway even launched a new development strategy “Better Health, Better Lives” to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as development assistance to LMICs.
Health conditions in low- and middle-income countries are shifting, with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) increasing. However greater awareness of the changing burden of disease has not translated into significant shifts in resources globally. With the Flagship Initiative we hope to mitigate that,” said Dag-Inge Ulstein, Norwegian Minister of International Development, as per Regjeringen.no.Dag-Inge Ulstein, Norwegian Minister of International Development
Forgotten to address alcohol issues at home
While international action to prevent and reduce NCDs is trailblazing and investments made by Norway are significant, it appears Norway has forgotten to focus on the issues at home.
On March 11, 2021 the Norwegian government presented the long awaited alcohol strategy to the public. The strategy is intended to help achieve the government’s objective of reducing per capita alcohol use by 10% by 2025. The development of an ambitious alcohol strategy was part of a decision in the Norwegian parliament (Storting) in 2018 and took three years to develop with the goal to provide concrete actions and direction on how to reach the alcohol policy related targets.
However, community groups are disappointed with the new strategy. Actis, the Norwegian policy network on alcohol and other drugs, has worked hard for a new and better strategy but are now voicing their concerns with the new strategy.
Actis is a Norwegian umbrella organization for NGOs in the alcohol and other drugs field. They represent 34 different organisations, including Movendi International members IOGT Norway, Juvente, DNT – Sober Lifestyle, Juba, that work to prevent and reduce harm caused by alcohol, other drugs and gambling.
The strategy is too weak,” said Pernille Huseby, Secretary General of Actis, as per Alkoholpolitik.
It contains many studies, processes and encouragements, but no concrete measures that help to achieve the goal of reducing consumption. This is disappointing. We expected more from the Christian People’s Party (KrF) in the government.”Pernille Huseby, Secretary General, Actis
When the strategy was under consultation, Actis advocated, among other things, for:
- adjusting alcohol taxes according to wage and price growth,
- reducing the national maximum time for serving to 2:00 AM, and
- better protection of the Norwegian alcohol monopoly Vinmonopolet.
But these evidence-based alcohol policy solutions that are recommended by WHO have not been included in the new alcohol strategy.
Actis is also not impressed with the government’s plan to “maintain the main approach to alcohol policy”. In addition, they will “propose to introduce requirements for warning labeling on alcoholic beverages” and “start a process to propose national requirements for content labeling”. Considering that the Norwegian parliament adopted both proposals on labeling in 2018, this response in the strategy is lacking ambition and undermines the strength of the decision already taken in 2018.
Actis has worked for the labeling of alcohol, and we were very happy when there was a majority for this three years ago,” said Pernille Huseby, Secretary General of Actis, as per Actis website [translated from Norwegian].
We would like to see a more direct approach. That the government will now “start a process” to propose content labeling is unimpressive.”Pernille Huseby, Secretary General, Actis
Positive reception of proposals to improve treatment
The newly presented strategy is receiving positive feedback in terms of its proposals to improve treatment for alcohol problems. The following points are included:
- Expanding the knowledge of general practitioners about alcohol problems and the importance of identifying such problems and developing tools for dealing with them.
- Ensuring permanent local services within psychiatric care and special treatment services in all prisons.
- Young people treated for alcohol intoxication or other poisoning in a hospital or emergency room will be offered advice and further care by qualified personnel.
- All children, regardless of the social and financial situation of their parents, should be given the opportunity to regularly participate in at least one organized leisure activity with others.
For the alcohol strategy to be cohesive and holistic the Norwegian government needs to step up action on the best policy solutions to prevent and reduce the harm alcohol products cause to citizens at the population level. These include measures which Actis has advocated for and the WHO recommends, such as the SAFER technical package.
Alkoholpolitik: “Norway: Abroad Top – Domestic Flop” [translated from German]
Regjeringen.no: “Norway ramps up support to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs)“