NordAN is working to open some doors in Latvia

The board of NordAN holds its meetings in different countries of the region and met in late February in the capital of Latvia, Riga.

Latvia has long been somewhat problematic for NordAN, as there are no active member organizations in the network and there is no Latvian representative on the board. We have tried to find contacts and invited different Latvians with some connection to public health and alcohol issues to the annual conferences.

One of the reasons for this visit was the border trade with Latvia, which has influenced the alcohol policy of both Estonia and Finland. However, Latvia is currently planning a new alcohol policy plan, which we also wanted to hear more about.

No one seems to be able to explain why civil society organizations are not dealing with alcohol issues in Latvia. Some public health organizations sometimes take a stand on specific points, but no organization focuses on this issue. All local contacts seem to agree that the lack of a strong voice from NGOs is a serious problem.

On the evening of February 25, we met Ms Marija Rozevska, President of the Latvian Medical Students Association (LAmSA), and Ms Sindija Piļaga, LAmSA´s Vice President of Foreign Relations. They acknowledged that LAmSA has no specific positions on alcohol policy so far, but they see a need to move closer to this topic. At the meeting, we discussed the different basics of alcohol policy by having a short crash course. Professor Peter Allebeck, President of NordAN, briefly talked about the alcohol guidelines, the messages from countries to their citizens about the dangers of alcohol consumption and various quantities. Stig Erik Sørheim from Actis outlined the principles behind the effectiveness of alcohol pricing policies. Arni Einarsson of SAFF Iceland spoke about both the role of limited availability and the broader Icelandic experience of success in reducing addictive behaviours over the past decades. Nijole Gostautaite Midttun from Lithuania spoke about the ban on alcohol advertising and its effectiveness in solving alcohol problems.

LAmSA stated their interest in developing further cooperation. We expressed our belief that doctors and medics have a special trust in society and that their words and statements are of particular importance.

On the morning of February 26, we visited the Ministry of Health of Latvia, where we met among others with Mrs Inga Birzniece, Mrs Sanita Lazdiņa from the Addiction Prevention Unit and with Mr Aleksandrs Takašovs. The meeting was also attended by experts from the Center for Disease Prevention and Control. In the frame of a delightful and cooperative meeting, the Latvian representatives introduced various points and areas of the alcohol plan under preparation. The plan includes a range of measures ranging from strengthening advertising restrictions to raising awareness of the link between alcohol and pregnancy. At least as a preliminary draft, this is a rather broad plan. Still, as the ministry representatives have said, they expect quite strong opposition from the alcohol industry as well as from various ministries that view alcohol more as an economic issue. It was once again stressed that strong support from civil society organizations was lacking. Multiple members of NordAN expressed their willingness to support and assist. The experience of different countries can undoubtedly help to counter the various arguments and support evidence-based alcohol policy measures.

This meeting also gave hope for further and stronger cooperation.

Lauri Beekmann,
Executive director