By Henry Ashworth
Preparations continue for a High-Level Meeting at the United Nations in September, which will focus on action needed to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The UN has rightly called for a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to tackling NCDs. All of us can – and should – do more together to support this global effort to improve health, particularly in low and middle-income countries where early deaths from NCDs are most prevalent.
The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) and its member companies – the leading global beer, wine, and spirits producers – recognize the role of harmful drinking as a risk factor for some NCDs, which is why we fully support UN and WHO frameworks to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. We are determined and committed to continue to be part of this movement to deliver positive change. Through our collective efforts, like the Producers’ Commitments, we have demonstrated the role that the private sector can play in accelerating progress towards addressing NCDs and achieving the wider Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Today, diverse groups from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors across the globe are acting, delivering strong results, but our collective efforts can go much further if we can share knowledge and learn from one another. By building a global community of partners from diverse perspectives, we can develop regional, national, and global responses that are less fragmented.
Moving from a shared agenda to shared solutions
By shifting our focus from a shared agenda to shared solutions, we can establish a movement that is greater than the sum of its parts and better able to deliver sustainable growth, and improved health. The private sector has a role to play in enabling bolder ideas and greater impact through its investment, expertise, technology, reach, and data. That is why it is essential to harness its resources alongside those of policy makers, regulators, healthcare professionals, and societal leaders.
By comparison, a divided response to issues like harmful drinking has the potential to create unintended consequences, including a rise in the consumption of illicit alcohol, which is untaxed, unregulated, and potentially toxic. The recent deaths of 141 Indonesians from homemade oplosan is a tragic reminder of the very human costs related to illicit alcohol. When this tragedy struck, The Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS) suggested that the restrictions on legal businesses were creating unintended consequences and the move towards illicit alcohol.
There are some who argue that the profit-making objectives of beer, wine, and spirits producers are incompatible with health goals. This is not my experience. Being part of the solution and tackling harmful drinking are central to the long-term sustainability of the companies that support IARD. That is why IARD members have initiated and developed innovative partnerships with hundreds of organizations, and reached millions through programs focused on preventing underage drinking and combatting drinking and driving, as just two examples.
Partnerships that are making a difference
In Australia, stakeholders from alcohol producers, law enforcement, media, sports organizations, retailers, and the entertainment industry worked together to devise the internationally acclaimed “How to Drink Properly” campaign; this aimed to tackle extreme drinking, and reached two million young people. An evaluation of the first phase of the campaign indicated that 81% of young people now understand the importance of drinking in moderation, 54% agreed that the campaign gave them a platform to talk to friends about drinking, and 71% now reflect on their behavior when they go out.
Similarly in Namibia, the Self-Regulating Alcohol Industry Forum (SAIF) worked with local police and others to support enforcement efforts. Their activities included a ‘train the trainer’ program, which aimed to train traffic law enforcement officers in preparation for public holidays when large numbers of drivers tend to travel on the highways. In addition, SAIF organized a press conference to announce the plans to reintroduce breath testing devices. Following these activities, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) noted a 55% decrease in fatalities, a 17% decrease in traffic crashes, and a 15% decrease in hospitalizations during the 2016 Easter holiday, compared to the same period in 2015.
In the Dominican Republic, where road deaths are sadly prevalent, IARD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare (MISPAS), which focused on preventing alcohol-related harm, and reducing drunk driving. As part of this work, IARD also supported the introduction of a maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers, and proposed high-visibility sobriety checkpoints. These efforts have been recognized and Congressman Tobias Crespo who sponsored the new traffic law said: “We value in a positive way the efforts of IARD to foment, through its programs, the responsible consumption of alcohol to prevent traffic crashes, and above all: save lives.”
These examples show the importance of having a whole-of-society approach to meeting health and other challenges faced at local and national levels. Successful partnerships such as these can only thrive when there is a broad and responsible business sector, able to play its role and able to support others in playing theirs.
Our vision is an environment where the development of a responsible and moderate cultural relationship with alcohol can help reduce non-communicable diseases, while supporting economic growth and job creation. And a united and collaborative response, including the beer, wine, and spirits producers, is an effective and powerful way in which we can tackle NCDs and meet the targets laid out within the Sustainable Development Goals.
Henry Ashworth is the CEO and President of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking.