GAPA: promoting the idea of the Framework Convention on Alcohol Control

The Global Alcohol Strategy is getting close to its end and next steps and developments are currently discussed in different settings. Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) is right in the middle of it and we turned to Øystein Bakke, GAPA´s Secretary to ask more about the situation and global advocacy work.

Lauri Beekmann: What are currently the main challenges that GAPA is working with?
Øystein Bakke: GAPA is working in the global policy arena to promote evidence-based alcohol policies and ultimately see a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control. The main arena for this work is the World Health Organization. Next year WHO is going to report “on the implementation of WHO’s global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol during the first decade since its endorsement, and the way forward”. This represents an opportunity to make progress for alcohol policy development globally. GAPA will also be a counterbalance to the alcohol industry and we are watching how the industry is involved in the policy arena, for instance when we protested against the partnership between the Global Fund and Heineken last year.

When you look back 10 years, thinking of the time before the global strategy, what has changed? Are we in a better situation now?
A lot has changed during the last ten years since WHO endorsed the “Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.” We perceive that there is growing acknowledgement in the global health arena that alcohol is a risk factor for ill-health that needs to be addressed. Still, there is a reluctance among some actors, but the interest is growing. Alcohol has been clearly established as one of the shared risk factors for NCDs. Back in 2011, around the UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs, alcohol was often “forgotten” when risk factors were mentioned. This does not happen that often any more. There is also a growing acceptance that the alcohol industry is not a partner for health – along with a greater interest in the commercial determinants of health. That is something that is being promoted from many sectors, not only the traditional alcohol policy advocates. Ten years ago GAPA was the only civil society actor advocating for alcohol policy in the WHO, now there are several and they are coming to it from different backgrounds. Still, the alcohol industry is trying to get an inroad into policy making and the global health field so the need for vigilance is still there.

What is the situation with WHO´s global alcohol strategy? Is there hope for a new one after 2020?
We are coming up on the 10 years anniversary of the alcohol strategy. Since 2010 the resources allocated for the implementation of the strategy has been too limited and the impact has not been seen. This has spurred a new interest in alcohol and some WHO Member States want to see alcohol coming back on the agenda of the governing bodies of WHO as a separate item, not only as a risk factor for NCDs. This was called for at the recent World Health Assembly so we expect to see more deliberation around this in the months ahead.

The alcohol industry has always been one of the obstacles for better alcohol policy. Can we see that their influence is getting smaller in time?
I’m sorry to say that the alcohol industry is very active and able to get their interests promoted by some of the WHO Member States, so there is still a great need for vigilance in countering their lobby activities.

You mentioned the framework convention for alcohol control as a goal. How realistic is it, in your view?
GAPA is advocating for an FCAC- a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control, of a similar fashion as the one we have for tobacco. This is the long term goal, but if you look back at FCTC it was considered by many as a utopian goal, even only a few years before it was adopted. This might be what will happen again.

It sometimes seems that national organisations are too busy with local developments and international work is too far and too big. Explain shortly why do you think that we should care about global work?
National alcohol policy is not crafted in isolation. When Member State get strong support from WHO and international trends it will be helpful for developing, protecting and implementing national policies. Henceforth, it is also important that advocates on the national level support efforts at the international level for instance by advocating to their politicians, policy makers and representatives who are involved in the international debates.

Sally Casswell and Øystein Bakke outside the venue of the upcoming GAPC 2020 at Dublin Castle in Dublin

What kind of input from member states do you need in your work? What is helpful?
Member states can support alcohol coming back on the agenda of the WHO governing bodies (Executive Board and the World Health Assembly), and contribute to raising the need for evidence-based alcohol policies and for keeping the alcohol industry out of the policy-making process.

When and where will be the next GAPC?
The next Global Alcohol Policy conference will be held in Dublin, Ireland 9-11 March 2020. It will happen at an essential time running up towards the alcohol discussions at the World Health Assembly happening in Geneva a couple of months later. The program will be rich and interesting and the venue, Dublin Castle will be great. Participants are invited to submit abstracts/make presentations in the many parallel sessions sharing the experience of practical advocacy work or disseminating research. So there is all reason to keep the dates and come to Dublin. See more info at www.gapc2020.org