Strong commitment in Serbia to expand screening and brief interventions on alcohol consumption

Kristina Redza

Alcohol consumption in Serbia exceeds the average of the WHO European Region: according to projected estimates for 2016, Serbians consume 11.8 litres of pure alcohol each while the average person in the Region consumes 10.3 litres.

Identifying individuals who drink at harmful levels and providing advice on limiting alcohol consumption – known as screening and brief intervention (SBI) – is an important policy option for health promotion and disease prevention in the European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020. WHO promotes the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) to identify individuals who are drinking at harmful levels.

In October 2016, WHO/Europe and the Country Office in Serbia arranged a train-the-trainer workshop for SBI in Belgrade. Two WHO consultants led the training: Dr Peter Rice, Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at National Health Service Tayside in Scotland, United Kingdom, and Dr Frederico Rosario, Manager of the Alcohol-related Problems Project at the Health Centre Grouping (ACeS) of Dão-Lafões, Portugal.

Both have extensive expertise in developing and implementing SBI programmes in primary health care. Over the course of 2 days, they helped addiction specialists and primary health care representatives to increase their knowledge about alcohol-related harm and how to train practitioners in delivering SBI in primary health care settings.

Intense training across Serbia

Since the 2016 train-the-trainer workshop, 11 trainers have organized training sessions with local government representatives and primary health care professionals in 9 municipalities throughout Serbia. In total, 55 government representatives and 104 primary health care professionals have attended a training.

Responses have been very positive, and participants view AUDIT as a particularly useful tool for assessing patients’ levels of alcohol use and appropriate responses. One of the trainers, Dr Tanja Djuric, said: “The trainings organized by WHO/Europe were very important, as they have equipped practitioners in further work with identifying, diagnosing and providing interventions in order to reduce the harmful use of alcohol in Serbia.”

“WHO has been supporting SBI development for many years,” said Dr Rice, “but establishing priority for this within national and local health systems can be difficult, so congratulations to my Serbian colleagues on their progress.”
Dr Rosario added: “The train-the-trainer workshop was a success right from the start, judging from the interest and commitment of all the trainees and the organizing team. Dissemination has been a challenging task in most countries, so I am thrilled to know that the workshop aided in the dissemination of training in Serbia.”

SBI part of Serbia’s national programme on alcohol prevention

Following the success of training, the WHO Country Office in collaboration with the Institute for Mental Health, a WHO Collaborating Centre in Belgrade, developed Serbian guidelines for the use of AUDIT based on the WHO recommendations. The Ministry of Health’s Commission on Alcohol Abuse Prevention approved the guidelines, and will discuss them with representatives from the primary health care system and local governments in September 2017.

The new Serbian Government is expected to take office this July and adopt the national programme on alcohol prevention in the fall of 2017. The programme, which was developed by a working group within the Ministry of Health, includes the development and implementation of SBI in primary health care as well as other settings.
The train-the-trainer workshop and subsequent trainings at the local level were supported by funding from the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation within the context of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.