Alcohol Policy in Action

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference united experts in Seoul, South Korea

23 October 2013

By Anne Babb, General Secretary of the International Blue Cross.

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC) met in Seoul, South Korea from 7 – 9 October, 2013. There were 850 participants from 55 countries including parliamentarians, government officials, and civil society members. There was a great commitment to emphasise the implementation of alcohol policies based on WHO’s report on Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. “We must not treat alcohol as an individual problem any longer, but rather as a threat to the foundation of our society”.

We at the Blue Cross have a key role in supporting people who suffer from addiction and must use our understanding of addiction combined with our understanding of policy to influence a positive global change. It is a proven fact that society must establish and maintain effective alcohol policy in each country to make a sustainable change. The most effective methods to protect people from the dangers associated with alcohol include implementing price controls, taxation, limiting the availability of alcohol, and curbing alcohol marketing/advertising. Each of these actions are cost effective, have a significant positive impact on health and are feasible to implement.

Blue Cross organisations can take part in this implementation by encouraging local action to increase public awareness as well as being closely in touch with decision makers, community leaders and politicians. Without these critical policy structures even the best treatment services will not succeed.

This conference made me reflect on the current treatment climate. Many countries have moved from in-patient treatment to community-based outpatient services. The message from Governments around the world has been that out-patient treatment is a more cost effective way of providing treatment. However, I would argue that in the current climate, individuals are too vulnerable in outpatient alcohol treatment services. When alcohol is readily available around the clock, prices are very low and marketing is very aggressive, the safety net is too weak. I think money is wasted due to a lack of implementing good alcohol policies. The alcohol industry clearly declares that the problem does not lie within the availability, marketing and pricing of its products but rather that addiction problems arise from the individual and their choices. NO! We need better structures in place in order to enable the effective services we provide to succeed more effectively.

To this end, we have published together with the Norwegian Blue Cross (www.blakors.no) and FORUT (www.forut.no/en/) a Training Manual to support evidence-based alcohol policy development in low income settings. The handbook is available on our website.

I want to challenge all of our members from 43 countries to take action. We are the experts on field of addiction and often know the right people to get the message heard so let’s demand the change!

You can find Seoul declaration that I have signed together with GAPC participants here.

To access the Alcohol Policy Training Manual, click here.