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Strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol

61st World Health Assembly adopts resolution on developing a global strategy

Issues paper
28 May 2008

The disease burden attributable to harmful use of alcohol is significant and in many countries public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol represent a substantial health, social and economic burden. Reduction of harmful use of alcohol is becoming a priority area for national, regional and global levels. Alcohol-related harm can be reduced through the implementation of proven alcohol strategies. On 24 May 2008, the 61st World Health Assembly adopted an important resolution on "Strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol". This resolution calls for the development of a draft global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

Harmful use of alcohol is an important public health issue

  • Harmful use of alcohol is ranked as the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability in the world. It is the leading cause of death and disability in developing countries with low mortality, the third among the leading risk factors in developed countries, after tobacco and blood pressure, and eleventh in developing countries with high mortality rates.
  • Although there are regional, national and local differences in levels, patterns and context of drinking, in 2002 harmful use of alcohol was estimated to cause about 2.3 million premature deaths worldwide (3.7% of global mortality) and to be responsible for 4.4% of the global burden of disease.
  • Harmful drinking is a major avoidable risk factor for neuropsychiatric disorders and other noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver and various cancers.
  • Harmful drinking among young people and women is an increasing concern across many countries.
  • Harmful drinking is associated with numerous social consequences, such as road traffic accidents, crimes, violence, unemployment and absenteeism. It generates health-care and societal costs. The health and social consequences tend to hurt less advantaged social groups most and contribute to disparities in health between and within countries.

The specifics of the resolution

The resolution requests WHO to develop a draft global strategy to reduce harmful use of alcohol. The strategy will be developed in close collaboration with Member States. Other stakeholders, such as nongovernmental organizations and the alcohol industry, will be consulted on ways that they can contribute to reduce harmful use of alcohol The draft strategy will first be presented to the Executive Board of WHO in January 2010 and then to the World Health Assembly in May 2010 for adoption. The draft global strategy aims to be adopted by consensus and will not be legally binding for the Member States.

The resolution expresses deep concern about the magnitude and complexity of alcohol-related harm worldwide and emphasizes an urgent need for action now to reduce harmful use of alcohol. It acknowledges that effective strategies and interventions that target the general population, vulnerable groups, individuals and specific problems are available and should be optimally combined in order to reduce alcohol-related harm. The resolution at the same time points out that such strategies and interventions must be implemented in a way that takes into account different national, religious and cultural contexts.

Future actions for WHO

The WHO Secretariat will start working on the draft global strategy immediately. The strategy will be developed in an open and transparent way in close collaboration with Member States and ensuring inputs from other relevant stakeholders. It will be based on all available evidence and existing best practices and will address relevant policy options, taking into account different national, religious and cultural contexts, such as national public health problems, needs and priorities, and differences in Member States' resources, capacities and capabilities.

Related links

For further information please contact:

Dag Rekve
Technical Officer
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 1657

Vinciane Quoidbach
Communications Officer
Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 4396