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29 Jan, 2012

Thailand to Host Conference on Battling Alcohol Abuse

Bangkok – The Thai tourism industry’s efforts to promote more niche-market visitors is set to take a step forward when the Global Alcohol Policy Conference convenes jere between 13-15 February 2012.

Jointly organized by the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization, the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, the conference is part of worldwide follow-up efforts to implement the WHO Global Strategy on Alcohol which was adtoped by the Global Health Assembly in May 2010. The conference will bring together policy makers, advocates, academics, and campaigners who are committed to working towards the development and implementation of effective alcohol policy free from commercial influence.

Speakers will discuss a broad range of detrimental impacts of alcohol abuse and misuse, such as on health, economies, families and societies. A Kenyan delegate is to discuss the impact of alcohol use among police officers and a Laotian delegate will discuss the linkage between alcohol and domestic violence.

Alongside the main event, conference delegates will be offered a choice six field trips to alcohol prevention and control initiatives or models in Thailand. These include the Santi Asoke Community, the Sum Rae Community and the Phra Mongkut 9 Hospital. (Download details of all the fabulous field trips here.)

Although Thailand is not exactly known as a place for programs to control alcohol-related problems, the fact that such facilities exist in the country and are being exhibited to international delegates, could open up a whole new word of opportunity for promoters of health and wellness tourism.

According to the conference website, “One of the most exciting moments of GAPC will be the eye-opening field trips showcasing advocacy and community actions (designed) to explore the successful and on-going policy approaches covering proactive and reactive prevention interventions for alcohol-related problems in various settings.”

The six sites have been chosen because the combine a number of different solutions for alchol-related problems. For example, the Santi Asoke is alcohol-free community based on religious beliefs and strong leadership; the Sum Rae community has a community-based “Reduce and Quit” program where role models who have quit drinking and other community members encourage and offer support to other drinkers to quit, and the Phra Mongkut 9 hospital offers treatment of alcohol use disorders and rehabilitation, including Alcoholics Anonymous programs.

Three other field trips include the Klong Lat Mayom Floating Market, an alcohol and smoking free market; the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) which has an “innovative financing mechanism for well-being including the reduction of alcohol consumption” and the Asia Precision Company Ltd where all workers and staffers are encouraged to good deeds for HM the King by “reducing, refraining and quitting” the three vices namely drinking, smoking and gambling.

Although the tourism industry itself is a major consumer of alcohol and contributor to alcohol-related problems, such as drunk driving deaths in the resort islands, refraining from alcohol consumption is a very important part of existing health and wellness programs. Paradoxically, people come to Thailand both to drink as well as to break away from drink.

According to the World Health Organisation, the harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths each year, with 320,000 young people between the age of 15 and 29 die from alcohol-related causes, resulting in 9% of all deaths in that age group.

Harmful drinking is also a major avoidable risk factor for noncommunicable diseases, in particular cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver and various cancers. It is also associated with various infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and TB, as well as road traffic accidents, violence and suicides.

Says the WHO, “In emerging markets and among younger groups increased consumption is apparent. Effective policy is not implemented as widely as is needed. A concerted effort in controlling alcohol related harm is greatly needed and will involve multiple partners, including academia, civil society organizations and government bodies. Global cooperation can play a significant role in supporting and complementing worldwide national and local actions.

In May 2010, the WHO adopted the resolution by unanimous consensus of all 193 Member States of the WHO. In addition, a global strategy developed in collaboration with Member States provides a portfolio of policy options and interventions for implementation at national level with the goal to reduce the harmful use of alcohol worldwide. The resolution endorses the strategy and urges countries to complement and support national responses to public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol.

Ten recommended target areas for policy options include health services’ responses, community action, pricing policies and reducing the public health impact of illicit alcohol and informally produced alcohol. WHO was also requested to support countries in implementing the strategy and monitor progress at global, regional and national levels.

“The resolution and the strategy set priority areas for global action, provide guidance to countries and give a strong mandate to WHO to strengthen action at all levels on reducing harmful use of alcohol,” says WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Ala Alwan.

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