Health & Fitness

Make fighting alcohol pandemic top priority

A percentage of alcohol taxes should go to public health education advertising messages. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in October was a series of events bringing together advocates on the Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) agenda. Efforts focused on more resource allocation, collaborations as well as innovations to tackle the growing epidemic.

Not often stated, but perhaps also emerging as a contributor, is the growing mental health cases due to fast paced economic development and changing cultural contexts. Depression and anxiety are indirectly leading to more consumption of intoxicants and stimulants. The bad news is that this is expected to continue for a while.

Alcohol, is a main stimulant especially for those on regular and chronic use. Alcohol addiction is harmful economically, socially and physically to a person. Its impacts both on the short and long-term are felt across acute care and chronic care systems.

A visit to any major hospital’s accident and emergency department can corroborate this especially on weekends and festive season, when consumption of alcohol due to merrymaking is high. The invisible patients are, however, at home, affecting the psychological and mental health of family members.

The presentation made by IOGT, a leading advocate on the subject cheekily titled, Trouble brewing, making a case for policy on alcohol, demanded need for more action to tighten control on usage.

For African nations short on funds, the recommendation was that NCDs be addressed through preventive approaches and novel collaborative initiatives; especially for raising resources and allocating them for health services to fight the issue.

IOGT’s report also notes the following regarding NCDs.

Harmful alcohol use is among the top four preventable NCD risks. Globally three million people or one person every ten seconds dies due to alcohol related or associated causes. Among 15-49-year olds, it is the leading cause of premature death.

While governments seem to be currently blinded by the revenue from alcohol taxation (beer and tobacco taxes continue ranking among Kenya Revenue Authority’s top tax raisers), the report indicates that the net economic costs of the health conditions arising from it to the governments is actually dwarfed by the revenue coming in.

This also feeds in to the awareness of the consumers on the effects of excessive use of the same.

In a previous article citing a survey we did on alcohol industry advertisements versus health promotion advertisements, we found out that health messages were overshadowed by alcohol ad spending. Our proposal that a section of beer taxes go to public health education advertising messages still holds water.

The report recommends reduction in consumption as the best way to beat alcohols’ NCDs contribution among a raft of other measures.

The full report “Trouble Brewing” is a recommended read for public and health economists.