Need for evidence informed and multisectoral National Alcohol policy in Zimbabwe

By Enock Musungwini

Mr Enock Musungwini

The Zimbabwe national Alcohol policy was drafted in 2011 and to date it has not been passed into law which is a very worrisome situation. Another key question is that who led the alcohol policy making process and whether it addresses the public health concerns and effects of alcohol. The Ministry of Health and Child Care National Cancer strategy 2013-17 cited alcohol as a major risk factor for cancer. As a result, the Zimbabwe National Alcohol policy is a key component in the fight against cancer and other Non-Communicable Diseases. Research has also shown also that alcohol is a risk factor for HIV transmission and the multisectoral efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe should also be supported by effective implementation and monitoring of the alcohol policy.

The World Health Organisation has defined alcohol as a psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties. Alcohol has been used for cultural, religious and social reasons providing perceived pleasure to many drinkers. Alcohol use globally is responsible for an estimated 100.4 million cases of alcohol use disorder, 99.2 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost to alcohol use which translate to 4.2% of all DALYs and 2.8million death. DALYs is a measure of overall disease burden which is expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

The World Health Organisation estimate that there are currently  2.3 billion alcohol drinkers globally(World Health Organisation news, 2018) and more than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016(OMS, 2018). Reducing the harmful use of alcohol will help achieve a number of health-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those for maternal and child health, infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases and mental health, injuries and poisonings(World Health Organisation news, 2018).

Research has shown that corporate actors influence particularly alcohol industry commercial players greatly influence alcohol policies in various countries and this is done through various means (Hawkins & McCambridge, 2014). The mechanisms include promoting so-called evidence that overshadow public health evidence on effects of alcohol in relation to Non-Communication Diseases and other health ills. In addition, other efforts involve engaging “experts” to participate in policy debates and engage politicians to influence and sway the decision making of policy makers. It is therefore important to have multisectoral representation in alcohol policy making process supported and guided by evidence-based research.

Another position is that policy making process should be supported and guided by research done by independent institutions who are not conflicted. This will promote transparency and reduce bias so that policy makers will act on pure evidence that will not have been fraudulently obtained. As reported in Hawkins& McCambridge (2014) report that SABMiller collaborated with the think tank Demos to produce pro-alcohol industry reports on binge drinking which were then heavily promoted among policymakers to sway opinions at UK government’s 2012 alcohol strategy. It was also reported that in the USA one of the corporate strategies of alcohol companies is to influence the political and regulatory environment in which they operate businesses(Wilks, Wilks and Stephen, 2013).

It is therefore my opinion that there is need for a multisectoral team to effectively push the finalisation of the Zimbabwe National Alcohol policy. The policy has to be enforced, reviewed regularly and monitored for implementation. The review, evaluation and monitoring will ensure compliance and being in sync with regional trends and some applicable global trends. It requires co-existence with businesses and a balancing act so that business is affected but at the same time without turning a blind eye on the harmful effects and consequences caused by alcohol.

Robust evidence on the harms associated with alcohol use should be articulated well and presented to the multidisciplinary policy making. Availability of evidence that is credible and simplified for easy understanding and interpretation by all key stakeholders is key. The role of evidence informed policy making cannot be over emphasised and organisations such Africa Evidence Network and 3IE should be commended at the same time supported to reach more implementers and countries. Political will is also important so that the governments should provide an enabling environment for policy engagements and debates as well as presentation of robust evidence for informed decision making.

Enock Musungwini is an MSc Public Health scholar at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, UK and has research interests in Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs. He is also a Member of the Africa Evidence Network Reference Group and Volunteer with African Diaspora Global Health Café. He can be reached on twitter @Enomark1979 emusungwini@yahoo.co.uk

The views expressed in this article are mine.