Despite COVID-19 Member States Need to Adequately Resource WHO’s Work to Address Alcohol Harm
In this letter to the editor the authors discuss the need for maintaining and strengthening a collaborative global response to risk factors for health, despite the pressures on WHO and member states.
The authors discuss the high burden of alcohol on countries stating that, unless effective government policies are put in place this trend is forecast to continue with increasing impact on public health. The global community has already set a goal to reduce alcohol harm, in the Sustainable Development Goals target 3.5. However, there is a growing consensus that the global public health community is failing to address the burden of alcohol.
A focus on alcohol at the 72nd World Health Assembly in May 2019 led to a request to WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros, to call for resourcing work tackling alcohol harm. Current funding levels are remarkably small at global, regional, and country levels. Only an estimated US$1 million per year was allocated for the WHO Head Quarter efforts to develop capacity, instruments, and technical advice for the implementation of the global alcohol strategy.
The global alcohol strategy was endorsed by the 63rd World Health Assembly in 2010. It outlines cost-effective interventions to reduce the health burden from alcohol. Implementation of the global strategy has, however, been slow. This, undoubtedly, is a consequence of conflict of interest, industry influence and lack of political will both globally and nationally as well as lack of resources.
There is a particular need to support low- and middle-income countries where alcohol control policy measures are less likely to be in place and alcohol consumption is on the rise. With the projected increase in disease burden and the agreement to develop a global action plan to implement the global strategy, the time is right for adequate funding to be allocated to enhance technical skills and advocacy for effective policies. Even before the action plan is in place, the most cost-effective interventions are being promoted by the WHO-led SAFER initiative – aimed at providing support for Member States in reducing the harmful use of alcohol. Funding is urgently needed to implement this initiative.
The authors state that compared with other risk factors, philanthropic foundations have failed to be major sources of funding for WHO’s alcohol activities. Just as there are no funders coming forward to support the alcohol portfolio in WHO, there are few funders (government or private) willing to support civil society efforts to address alcohol harm, either for community programs or for policy advocacy at the national or global levels.
The authors conclude that funding commensurate with the health burden is needed in order to fulfil the ambition of accelerating action. Despite the difficulties imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a much-accelerated response to alcohol harm is urgent.