The World Health Organisation, WHO, has revealed that harmful use of alcohol kills three million people worldwide every year, which represents 5.3 % of all deaths.
The body spoke on Friday when it released SAFER, a new initiative and technical package outlining five high-impact strategies that could help governments reduce the harmful use of alcohol and related health, social and economic consequences.
According to the WHO, the harmful use of alcohol was a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions, while overall, 5.1 % of the global burden of disease and injury was attributable to alcohol, as measured in Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs).
The report said alcohol consumption caused death and disability relatively early in life, saying that in the age group 20–39 years approximately, 13.5 % of the total deaths were alcohol-attributable.
The body added that there was a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders, other noncommunicable conditions as well as injuries.
It said the latest causal relationships had been established between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.
Beyond health consequences, WHO said the harmful use of alcohol brought significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.
On SAFER, the body said is the newest WHO-led roadmap to support governments in taking practical steps to accelerate progress on health, beat noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) through addressing the harmful use of alcohol, and achieve development targets.
“We are proud to introduce SAFER – a package of proven interventions to reduce the harms caused by alcohol, and a new partnership to catalyze global action,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
“We need governments to put in place effective alcohol control policy options and public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol,” he said.
“We have seen too little progress since the endorsement of the ‘Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol’ by the World Health Assembly eight years ago. But SAFER brings new impetus for action,” said WHO Assistant Director-General, Dr Svetlana Axelrod.
Dr Axelrod added: “We encourage countries to take action, monitor their progress, and protect alcohol policy development from interference by commercial interests. Support from civil society and donors is critical for success on alcohol control that contributes to reducing poverty, improving gender equality and improving public safety.”
According to the GSR, an estimated 2.3 billion people were current alcohol drinkers, but noted that consumption varies across regions, adding that more than a quarter (27%) of all 15 to 19-year-olds were current drinkers, with rates of current drinking highest among this age group in Europe (44%), followed by the Americas and the Western Pacific (both 38%).
The WHO reports that Alcohol is consumed by more than half of the population in three WHO regions – the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific. Current trends and projections point to an expected increase in global alcohol per capita consumption in the next 10 years, particularly in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions and the Region of the Americas.
Almost all (95%) countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half use other price strategies such as banning below-cost selling or volume discounts. The majority of countries have some type of restriction on beer advertising, with total bans most common for television and radio but less common for the internet and social media.
Some countries have implemented and enforced policies to reduce alcohol use already. In the United States, states that increased the legal alcohol consumption age to 21 saw a 16% median decline in motor vehicle crashes. In Brazil, reducing the opening hours of bars from 24 hours a day to closure at 11 pm was associated with a 44% drop in homicides.