Harmful use of alcohol killed over 3 million people – WHO

Tare Youdeowei

The World Health Organisation has said that more than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016.

WHO said the total number represents one in 20 deaths, of which more than three quarters were among men. The international organisation added that the harmful use of alcohol caused more than five per cent of the global disease burden.

WHO Global status report on alcohol and health 2018 presented a comprehensive picture of alcohol consumption and the disease burden attributable to alcohol worldwide. It also described what countries are doing to reduce this burden.

Describing the harmful use of alcohol as a threat to the development of healthy societies, Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said, “Far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol through violence, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke. It is time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies.”

Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, the report said 28 per cent were due to injuries, such as those from traffic crashes, self-harm and interpersonal violence; 21 per cent were due to digestive disorders; 19 per cent were due to cardiovascular diseases, and the remainder due to infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders and other health conditions.

The report said, “Despite some positive global trends in the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking and number of alcohol-related deaths since 2010, the overall burden of disease and injuries caused by the harmful use of alcohol is unacceptably high, particularly in the European Region and the Region of Americas.

“Globally an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol-use disorders with the highest prevalence among men and women in the European region -14.8and 3.5 per centsand the Region of Americas 11.5 and 5.1 per cents. Alcohol-use disorders are more common in high-income countries.”

Noting that global consumption had been predicted to increase in the next 10 years, it added, “An estimated 2.3 billion people are current drinkers. Alcohol is consumed by more than half of the population in three WHO regions – the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific. Europe has the highest per capita consumption in the world, even though its per capita consumption has decreased by more than 10 per cent since 2010.

“Current trends and projections point to an expected increase in global alcohol per capita consumption in the next 10 years, particularly in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions and the Region of the Americas.”

Reacting to the projections, Dr Ghebreyesus urged countries to adopt creative means of saving lives from alcohol, “We would like to see Member States implement creative solutions that will save lives, such as taxing alcohol and restricting advertising. We must do more to cut demand and reach the target set by governments of a 10 per cent relative reduction in consumption of alcohol globally between 2010 and 2025.”

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