3.3 million Worldwide deaths in 2012 were due to harmful use of alcohol, said a new report launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) released on Monday.
According to the report, alcohol consumption could not only lead to dependence, but also increase people’s risk of developing more than 200 diseases including liver cirrhosis and some cancers; in addition, harmful drinking could lead to violence and injuries.
The report, which was made available to the Ghana News Agency by Glenn Thomas, WHO Communications Officer, also finds that harmful use of alcohol makes people more susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.
The “Global status report on alcohol and health 2014”provides country profiles for alcohol consumption in the 194 WHO Member States, the impact on public health and policy responses.
“More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health. “The report clearly shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol.”
It said some countries were already strengthening measures to protect people, these include increasing taxes on alcohol, limiting the availability of alcohol by raising the age limit, and regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages.
The report also highlights the need for action by countries including national leadership to develop policies to reduce harmful use of alcohol (66 WHO Member States had written national alcohol policies in 2012), and national awareness-raising activities (nearly 140 countries reported at least one such activity in the past three years).
In addition, the report shows the need for communities to be engaged in reducing harmful use of alcohol.
It said on average, every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year, but as less than half the population (38.3 per cent) actually drinks alcohol, this means that those who do drink consume an average 17 litres of pure alcohol annually.
The report also points to the fact that a higher percentage of deaths among men than among women are from alcohol-related causes - 7.6 per cent of men’s deaths and 4 per cent of women’s deaths – though there is evidence that women may be more vulnerable to some alcohol-related health conditions compared to men.
In addition, the authors note that there is concern over the steady increase in alcohol use among women.
“We found that worldwide, about 16 per cent of drinkers engage in heavy episodic drinking - often referred to as ‘binge-drinking’ - which is the most harmful to health,” explains Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.
"Lower-income groups are more affected by the social and health consequences of alcohol. They often lack quality health care and are less protected by functional family or community networks.”
It said globally, Europe is the region with the highest consumption of alcohol per capita, with some of its countries having particularly high consumption rates.
Trend analysis shows that the consumption level is stable over the last 5 years in the region, as well as in Africa and the Americas, though increases have been reported in the South-East Asia and the Western Pacific regions.
Through a global network, WHO is supporting countries in their development and implementation of policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.
The need for intensified action was endorsed in the landmark 2011 United Nations General Assembly meeting, which identified alcohol as one of four common risk factors contributing to the non-communicable disease epidemic.