Alcohol, road traffic injuries and noncommunicable diseases

WHO/Malin Bring

Recognising cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and road traffic injuries (RTIs) as major public health hazards in the European Region, WHO/Europe held a training course on the role of alcohol as a risk factor. Participants comprised 44 policy-makers from the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The third in a series of intersectoral training courses on NCDs, this 4-day workshop was dedicated to national practices and joint regional action on prevention of drink–driving.

Alcohol is a major risk factor for both CVDs and RTIs. CVDs cause more than half of all deaths across the Region, while RTIs are estimated to be accountable for 85 000 deaths in the Region annually. According to some estimates, drink–driving might be responsible for as many as 1 in 5 deaths on the roads. Road traffic injuries in particular affect the younger population – they are the leading cause of premature death in young people aged 15–29 years in the Region.

Developing common approaches and joint solutions

The course provided a much-needed space for discussion of the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and RTIs related to alcohol in the Region as a whole and in each of the participating countries. Participants analysed case studies of national legislation on drink–driving and considered how health, legal and enforcement practices could be enhanced in each particular case. Since alcohol is a risk factor both for NCDs and RTIs the course focused on effective, joint approaches such as promotion of physically active transport, enhancing emergency care services and using marketing strategies to reduce alcohol consumption, an idea inspired by the successes of anti-smoking campaigns. It also included a discussion on the role of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) as a regional organization and examples of European Union policies that could be applied in the EEU.

Committing to action at country level

Throughout the course, participants from each country worked together to develop a national roadmap to address NCDs, drink–driving and injury, which they presented at the closure of the meeting. Most of the 9 presentations recognized the importance of enhancing anti-drink–driving legislation, developing emergency care and promoting physically active transport – but also emphasized the need for a systematic intersectoral approach and communication between national and international stakeholders.

National stakeholders and WHO: cooperation is key

WHO Representative to the Russian Federation, Dr Melita Vujnovic, and the Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office), Dr João Breda, greeted the participants on behalf of WHO. Both commended the progress that the countries of the Region had already made and emphasized that WHO is committed to supporting countries in their efforts to mitigate alcohol-related risks and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In her speech, Dr Vujnovic explained that the training course included, among other things, arguments that would help convince the governments and parliaments of Member States that regulation of alcohol consumption is beneficial both for national economies and for human development. Dr Breda added that without addressing the problems of alcohol consumption and road safety, countries will not be able to achieve the SDGs.

According to Sergey Muraviev, Director of the Department of International Cooperation and Public Relations of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, these intersectoral courses are already "a well-known brand and a proven quality mark".

Viktor Kondratyev, Chief Specialist of the Main Office for Ensuring Road Safety of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Russian Federation, praised the work of WHO on prevention of RTIs. He added that the number of deaths among both pedestrians and children on Russian Federation roads had fallen by almost 50% in the last few years, not least owing to cooperation with the WHO. Tatyana Mikhailovna Litvinova, Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs, I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, added: “A comprehensive legislative framework is a powerful tool in reducing NCDs and road traffic injuries to prevent avoidable deaths and morbidity”. Nikolai Fedorovich Gerasimenko, Deputy Chairman, Committee on Health Protection, State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, emphasized that reduction of alcohol and tobacco consumption is one of the pillars of promoting a healthy lifestyle, and an area in which the Russian Federation is making significant progress. Since 2009, he added, the number of tobacco users has decreased by 9 million and a large number of tobacco factories closed; comparable success rates are attainable for alcohol consumption through adequate and coordinated policy measures.

The course was developed by leading experts from I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, the University of Stirling (United Kingdom), the University of Toronto (Canada), and other national and international research and public health organizations. The training was organized by WHO/Europe and its NCD Office, located in Moscow and funded by the Government of the Russian Federation. Speakers included experts in the areas of NCDs, road safety, harmful alcohol use, legislation and enforcement, social marketing, emergency trauma care and physically active transport.