Slovenia organizes workshop to share good practice in alcohol policy
Representatives from ministries of health and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) along with international experts gathered in Ljubljana, Slovenia on 6–7 November for an Intersectoral Workshop on Cooperation for the Preparation of a Comprehensive Alcohol Policy for South-Eastern Europe. The objectives of the workshop were to discuss common public health objectives regarding the harmful effects of alcohol at national, regional and global levels, to strengthen cooperation across sectors, and to share good practices.
The event was organized by the Slovene Ministry of Health, partner of the South-eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN), and WHO Europe, with the support of the SEEHN Secretariat.
The event was opened by Ms Jožica Zakotnik, State Secretary, Ministry of Health, Slovenia, who welcomed participants and expressed the support of the country for the topics of common interest implemented by SEEHN.
The harmful use of alcohol, besides its negative effects on health, contributes to reduced productivity and increased inequalities. Reducing the harmful use of alcohol has therefore been set out as an important target in the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (2013–2020).
In her opening address, Dr Darina Sedláková, WHO Representative and Head of the WHO Office in Slovenia, highlighted that alcohol intake in the WHO European Region is the highest in the world. Many countries, including those of SEEHN, have been slow in reducing alcohol consumption. The harmful use of alcohol is the cause of a long list of noncommunicable diseases and premature deaths; it contributes to violence, crime, loss of jobs, and decline of family and social life. Therefore, WHO will continue to give support to its member states in reducing the harmful effects of alcohol and building partnerships for lobbying and advocacy to develop and implement cost-effective results-based alcohol policies.
Young people at the centre of effective alcohol policy
Dr Vesna Kerstin Petrič, Head of the Division for Health Promotion and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, Ministry of Health, Slovenia, underlined in her presentation not only the importance of protecting young people from alcohol harm, but also the need to make young people the driving force of successful alcohol policy-making.
The Alcohol Policy Youth Network helped participants to explore how youth NGOs can work towards reducing the harm in young people and how cooperation can be established and maintained among different stakeholders in the field of alcohol policy.
Dr Peter Rice, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and WHO Europe temporary advisor, gave an overview of the “best buys” for alcohol policy – raising alcohol taxes, restricting access to retailed alcohol and enforcing bans on alcohol marketing. He noted that reducing harm to young people involves implementing comprehensive policy measures that also have an impact on the population as a whole.
The participants spent the majority of their time working in groups, sharing experiences and case stories; determining the next steps for developing partnerships between state, public and NGO stakeholders; and prioritizing the steps to change the unfavourable situation in SEEHN countries. The priorities ranked highest by participants were school-based education, public information campaigns, increased prices of alcohol and regulation of the marketing and sale of alcohol. Efforts should also be made to help build the capacity of local communities to ensure healthy lifestyle choices for young people.
The workshop was highly appreciated by all participants and they requested a follow-up next year. It was proposed that primary care physicians be invited as crucial partners in the identification of people having problems with alcohol. Dr Mira Jovanovski Dašić, Director of the SEEHN Secretariat, as well as the directors of the SEEHN Regional Health Development Centres on noncommunicable diseases and on public health, expressed their full commitment to support activities with concrete and practical objectives.