Regional consultation on alcohol and health 2016
The WHO Regional Office for Europe organized a regional consultation on alcohol and health on 24 November 2016, in conjunction with the 7th European Alcohol Policy Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The meeting focused on alcohol and pregnancy, and on trends in consumption and alcohol-attributable harm – themes of recent WHO/Europe publications.
The European Region has the highest level of alcohol consumption of all the WHO regions. The consultation, which was attended by representatives of 30 of the 53 Member States in the Region and a number of international organizations working on alcohol policy, focused on effective policy measures to reduce alcohol-related harm. Current and future WHO work has a particular focus on the eastern part of the European Region, where alcohol-attributable mortality and the contribution to the burden of noncommunicable diseases is high.
Preventing harm to the unborn child – update on work regarding alcohol and pregnancy
During the first part of the consultation, participants were briefed on the new WHO/Europe publication Prevention of harm caused by alcohol exposure in pregnancy. Rapid review and case studies from Member States. Dr Elena Varavikova, a lead researcher in the field of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) at the Public Health Research Institute in Moscow, Russian Federation, shared her experiences of FASD prevention, stating that “overall consumption also affects pregnancy”. She noted that in the Russian Federation, alcohol consumption among girls and women is high and contraception use is low, raising the risk of having an alcohol-exposed pregnancy, which presents a public health concern. In some regions of the Russian Federation, research shows that fewer than half of health care professionals ask pregnant women about their alcohol use.
Focused training of health care professionals in using brief interventions has contributed to greater awareness and prevention work in antenatal care, but the lack of a global prevalence rate for FASD is a major challenge. WHO is therefore setting up a global prevalence study, to include data collection in a number of countries, using a common methodology. In addition, a training programme for health professionals based on the WHO guidelines for identification and management of substance use and substance abuse in pregnancy is being developed.
Consumption, harm and policy implementation in the European Region
The second part of the consultation was dedicated to alcohol consumption and attributable harm. Alcohol-attributable mortality has increased over the past two decades in the European Region, and creative solutions are needed to change the environment. Effective policy measures, such as increasing the price of alcohol through taxation, should be employed to tackle alcohol-related harm. Unless they are relative to inflation, however, alcohol tax increases have little impact. Other strategies, such as minimum unit pricing, are effective alternatives. The ongoing and future work of the Regional Office was presented, including the Alcohol Policy Timeline Database, launched during the 7th Alcohol Policy Conference and available on the WHO/Europe website. A project to develop a train-the-trainer screening and brief intervention for alcohol toolkit is continuing.
Monitoring of national policies related to alcohol consumption and harm (MOPAC)
The consultation, the new publication on alcohol and pregnancy, the toolkit and the Alcohol Policy Timeline Database are part of a three-year project entitled “Monitoring of national policies related to alcohol consumption and harm reduction (MOPAC)”. This aims to support collaboration between the European Union and WHO in monitoring and surveillance of countries’ progress in reducing the harmful use of alcohol. MOPAC activities are carried out with funding from the European Union.