Time to Deliver: Alcohol, NCDs and Sustainable Development side-event at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly

28 September 2018, New York, USA

Hon’ble President of Sri Lanka, Excellencies, dignitaries and partners,

We have been hearing of the harmful use of alcohol and the fact that it kills 3.3 million people globally each year. 600 000 of them are in the South-East Asia Region. Alcohol’s harmful use cannot be underestimated.

Indeed, the harmful use of alcohol results in premature deaths at all ages. It has a damaging impact on maternal and child health, especially on pregnant mothers. And it also leads to road traffic incidents, resulting in injury and disability.

But as this event highlights, the harmful use of alcohol is a major obstacle to achieving a range of Sustainable Development Goals, in addition to the SDG 3, the health Goal.

Take SDG 1, no poverty. Alcohol use is frequently a major barrier to employment, and is often the catalyst of vicious, life-defining poverty for whole families and communities.

Or consider SDG 2, zero hunger. Too often money spent on alcohol is money that could have been spent on nutrition and the many benefits it brings.

I’m sure that for each one of the 16 SDGs we can see a link of how it threatens progress and impedes our collective ambition.

And that, of course, is precisely why the health sector must play a leading role in addressing it.

Nevertheless, before getting to the ‘how’ of the question, let me first outline the contours of the problem as it relates to the South-East Asia Region.

Compared to other parts of the world, the South-East Asia Region has a relatively low average per capita consumption of alcohol.

Still, those who do drink tend to drink a lot, with consumption per drinker the world’s highest, at 23.1 liters of ethanol each. That is expected to rise to 4 liters of ethanol per person by 2025.

As demographics and social norms have changed, the Region has seen a sharp increase in the number of drinkers, particularly among young and female populations.

Given this trend, the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful use of Alcohol is indispensable. It is a comprehensive document.

I very much welcome the SAFER Package, which will help countries implement the Strategy and its ten areas for national action. It will also help guide them in developing country-specific strategies to deal with the problem.

As reflected in the Region’s Flagship Priority on NCDs, the best way to do that is to focus on the most cost-effective interventions – the so-called ‘best-buys’ that can drive real and lasting change.

Those best buys include a focus on increasing taxation, curbing marketing and controlling the physical availability of alcohol.

When combined, these and other interventions are likely to make a substantial impact both at the population level, as well as for individuals that struggle with alcohol.

They are measures that we must be willing to implement with the same commitment that has seen us tackle other substances that cause NCDs, including tobacco.

Given the interest in this event, as well as the leadership demonstrated by our co-organizers from the Region, including Sri Lanka and Thailand, I trust that we will be able to do this.

In particular, I would like to recognize the Government of Sri Lanka which, under the leadership of a dynamic health minister, has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to addressing alcohol-related problems and is hosting the Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Colombo in 2019.

Importantly, I also trust that the health sector will provide the leadership it must on the issue, and that we will be able to reduce the harmful use of alcohol across and beyond the Region and prove the projections wrong.

To that outcome I stand fully committed and assure you of WHO’s steadfast resolve.

Thank you.

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