The 71st regional committee meeting of WHO Africa was held in late August. Movendi International participated in this meeting where 47 member countries of the WHO African region gathered virtually to discuss all the important health matters of the region.
There were many ambitious plans on the agenda but one glaring omission was obvious. Alcohol harm and corresponding alcohol policy solutions were totally absent from all the health topics African leaders were discussing.
Given the heavy alcohol burden in the region; its connection to all the other significant health issues discussed at the meeting; and the alcohol industry practices to maximize profits at the cost of people’s health, African community activists are calling on their leaders to prioritize alcohol policy solutions.

“Health is wealth” is a well-known African proverb. It reminds us of the importance African people place on health and well-being. No doubt the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the importance everyone places on health. It has also brought to focus the need and the yearning of the African people for transformative improvements to health, healthcare and disease prevention.

In late August, 2021, Movendi International’s Board Member Tungamirai Zimonte, founder of Youth against Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (YADD) and William Ntakuka, from Kenya, and the Regional Representative to the UN, Movendi International, participated in the World Health Organization’s 71st Regional Committee Meeting in Africa. The 47 member countries of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa gathered digitally for the annual regional committee meeting.

There were many ambitious plans on the agenda ranging from COVID-19 response; TB, HIV, STIs and hepatitis response; eliminating cervical cancer; healthy ageing; to digital health.

But, one glaring omission was obvious to Mr Zimonte and Mr Ntakuka. Alcohol harm and corresponding alcohol policy solutions were totally absent from all the health topics African leaders were discussing. Even though the rest of the agenda items were significant health issues where alcohol harm plays a substantial role.

The products and the practices of the alcohol industry are wreaking havoc in our communities. They fuel violence and road traffic deaths, abuse and neglect of children; they drive diseases such as cancer, mental ill-health and heart disease, as well as HIV/AIDS; they cause massive loss of human potential and economic productivity,” wrote Mr Zimonte and Mr Ntakuka, Kenya, as per The Daily Maverick.

Tungamirai Zimonte, Board Member, Movendi International and founder, Youth against Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (YADD) and William Ntakuka, Kenya, Regional representative to the UN, Movendi International

Alcohol harm: An obstacle to health, well-being and development of the African region

According to the WHO, the African region bears the heaviest alcohol burden in the world. While the majority of adults in Africa live free from alcohol, more than 60% of African alcohol users engage in heavy episodic consumption. 

Following are just a few examples of alcohol harm in several countries in the African region:

  • In South Africa, the combined tangible and intangible costs of alcohol harm to the economy are between 10% and 12% of growth domestic product. According to a study published in The Lancet in 2009, health and social costs of alcohol alone amounted to about R9-billion ($1.2-billion) per year. That was double the amount the government received in alcohol excise tax revenue.
  • A recent World Bank report found the alcohol burden on road traffic accidents in Malawi. Among patients admitted to a hospital after road traffic accidents, alcohol prevalence was 30.7% among men and 2.5% among women.
  • Another WHO report found that Zimbabwe had one of the highest binge alcohol use rates among 15 to 19 year olds in the region. The rate is 70.7% for males and 55.5% for females.
  • A study published in the Journal of Substance Use found Nigerian university students at high risk of alcohol harm.

Alcohol is known to cause a range of non-communicable diseases including, seven types of cancer, liver disease, heart disease and mental health issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic also demonstrated the interlinkages between communicable diseases and non-communicable (NCDs) diseases, where alcohol is a driver in both. Those with pre-existing NCDs are at higher risk of developing complications and dying due to the virus. For this and several other reasons, alcohol is found to have a lethal interaction with the ongoing pandemic.

  1. Alcohol products increase health and societal problems arising from the pandemic. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to coronavirus infections. And alcohol-centric social contexts have often become COVID-19 super spreader events.
  2. Alcohol products increase the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already stretched due to the pandemic.
  3. The alcohol industry exploits the pandemic to change alcohol laws to their benefit such as through weakening delivery and take away laws.

The African region already has a high communicable disease burden. Even before the pandemic the interactions between alcohol harm and communicable disease were illustrated for example in terms of HIV and Tuberculosis.

Big Alcohol in the African region

The alcohol industry is making inroads in the African region through several well-planned, highly funded strategies. The region has a growing young, and middle income population. For the alcohol industry this is another market to be exploited.

There is a powerful alcohol lobby working in the region. Big Alcohol’s interference is a major reason for many African countries not having comprehensive alcohol policies in place to protect their citizens. This alcohol lobby obstructs alcohol policies from being developed and thwarts existing policies. Big Alcohol then exploits the lack of policies to heavily market cheap alcohol to drive higher consumption at the cost of African people’s health, well-being and development.

Following are some examples of the alcohol lobby at work in the African region:

Alcohol policy solutions to protect Africans and boost development

The products and practices of the alcohol industry are harming African people. That is why comprehensive alcohol policy solutions are crucial and urgent. A concerted regional effort would lead to the best results. Since the alcohol industry works in transnational moves, a concerted effort is needed from governments to protect people from harm caused by the Big Alcohol. With such an approach, countries would be better enabled to effectively withstand the growing pressure from the alcohol lobby.

Therefore, African community activists call on African leaders to invest in alcohol policy solutions. High-impact alcohol policy measures, such as raising taxes, banning advertising and reducing alcohol availability, generate $9 for every $1 invested.

Evidence-based alcohol policy helps African countries to reduce harm, promote health and afford better healthcare.

It’s time for a decade of action to prevent and reduce alcohol harm in Africa – the rewards will be better health and bigger wealth. 

Tungamirai Zimonte, Board Member, Movendi International and founder, Youth against Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (YADD) and William Ntakuka, Kenya, Regional representative to the UN, Movendi International

Already in 2010, the WHO showed that raising taxes on alcohol to 40% of the retail price could have an even bigger impact than a 50% increase in tobacco taxation. For 12 low-income countries that would mean a drop in alcohol use of more than 10%, while tax revenues would more than triple to a level amounting to 38% of total health spending in those countries. 

Recently the World Bank called on the government of Nigeria to raise alcohol taxes to mobilize domestic resource for sustainable development. A similar call was made by IMF to the government of Ghana.

Kenya’s success with alcohol policy and the effective temporary alcohol sales bans in South Africa demonstrate there is high potential for alcohol policy solutions in the African region.

Movendi International support to prioritize alcohol policy solutions

Movendi International has long supported the development and implementation of public health oriented alcohol taxation and other alcohol policy solutions as key policy solution to achieve health and development for all. 

Movendi Internnational resources have become global public goods in illustrating that alcohol is an obstacle to achieving 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Movendi International also provides effective solutions governments can use to implement the WHO Best Buy recommendations and the SAFER package to achieve the global health and development goals.

The benefits of alcohol taxation across multiple Sustainable Development Goals


Maverick Citizen: “Activists call on African health leaders to prioritise high-impact alcohol policy measures

The Manica Post: “Make alcohol policy a top priority