Call for ‘bold step’ in promoting world health

15 February 2012


Alcohol abuse and its related health challenges should be the next target for global public health, argues Dr Devi Sridhar, James Martin University Lecturer in Global Health Politics. In a comment piece for Nature, Sridhar states a case for the World Health Organization (WHO) to ‘take a bold step’ and implement a legal treaty to protect world health.

The WHO is the only global health body that can create legally binding conventions. And yet, in the 60 years since its founding, the United Nations agency has only produced two major treaties, one to regulate reporting on major disease outbreaks and the other to reduce tobacco demand and supply.

“This is a major missed opportunity,” states Sridhar. “About 2.5 million deaths a year, almost 4% of all deaths worldwide, are attributed to alcohol — more than the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Alcohol consumption is the world’s third-largest risk factor for health burden; in middle-income countries, which constitute almost half of the world’s population, it is the greatest risk. The WHO has both the legitimacy and the authority to address these statistics directly.”

Sridhar explains that while there are evidence-based efforts for alcohol already in place, a WHO Framework Convention on Alcohol Control could turn policy recommendations into legal requirements for member states. Calling for the WHO to fulfil its legal potential, Sridhar advocates the creation of a commission on global health law. She adds, “Through analysis of other regimes, such as in trade and finance, that have arguably been more successful in utilizing international law, such a commission could provide recommendations on how to strengthen the WHO’s normative power.”

Dr Devi Sridhar is based in the George Centre for Healthcare Innovation, a member of the Oxford Martin School. The Centre’s aim is to formulate, evaluate and implement innovative strategies for managing the healthcare challenges facing the world in the 21st century. The Centre is affiliated with the George Institute for Global Health, based in Sydney, Australia. ·

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Photo credit: Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons