Ministers of health discussed, during the morning session of the 51st Directing Council, the proposed Plan of Action to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, which seeks to lower levels of per-capita alcohol consumption and reduce alcohol-related harm.
According to WHO data, alcohol consumption was the leading risk factor for deaths and illnesses in the Americas in 2004 and was responsible for more than 347,000 deaths. The most common pattern of consumption in the hemisphere is the most risky pattern: heavy episodic drinking, mostly by males. This leads to acute and chronic health problems including injuries, mental health disorders, cancers, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. It also negatively affects other people, such as the victims of drunk-driving car crashes and alcohol-related violence.
Alcohol experts say that the drinking pattern that could have a beneficial impact—occasional consumption of limited amounts of alcohol and no episodes of excessive drinking—applies primarily to people 45 years of age and older, and that this pattern of consumption in fact may be harmful among other age groups. In any event, low-risk drinking is not the prevailing pattern in most of the countries of the Americas.
The plan includes measures ranging from increased taxes on alcohol sales and restrictions on alcohol marketing, to training for primary health care workers in screening and treatment for risky drinkers.
The plan will be reconsidered later during the meeting, pending modifications requested by delegates.