The corona crisis and alcohol policy - especially important in low-income countries

Published 2020-04-20

The effects of the coronavirus on human life and health and on society at large will be enormous. Alcohol policy is naturally not at the top of the agenda of the world health ministers right now, but when the most urgent situation is over, there are good arguments for actually looking at the issue and strengthening the efforts already being made to limit the harm from alcohol.  

Our main recommendations regarding alcohol and alcohol policy efforts below the corona crisis are they here:  

1. Reduce the burden on healthcare 

The large number of people who fall ill with covid-19 for a short time risks causing healthcare to collapse. Low- and middle-income countries, often with weak health systems, run an extra large risk here. Alcohol is one of the major risk factors behind global ill health, and we know that here, too, people in poor countries are hit relatively harder by the consequences of alcohol. An example is South Africa, where alcohol according to Professor Charles Parry estimated to cause 172 deathsl every day.  

A more active alcohol policy - mainly by reducing the availability (or closing down alcohol sales completely as has been done in South Africa, for example) and higher prices through alcohol tax - can clearly and quickly help reduce the pressure on healthcare.  

2. Reduce the risk of domestic violence 

Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of violence. In a situation where families have to live in isolation for weeks or months, in addition to increasing financial stress and anxiety, the risk of violence increases, both in close relationships and with children. We are already seeing reports which points to this development. Alcohol prevention work through more active policy work can help reduce violence.  

3. Alcohol tax provides resources to strengthen healthcare 

Higher prices of alcohol through alcohol tax is a classic win-win. Evidence shows that this is the most cost-effective way to reduce the damage from alcohol - while taxes create resources that can be used, for example, to invest in the health system. We suggest that a special healthcare fee is added to the regular alcohol tax. 

Counteract misinformation about alcohol and crown 

In some places spread myths on how to kill the coronavirus by drinking alcohol. This is not true, rather alcohol can increase the risks due to the negative effects it has on the human immune system.  

5. It is not bad judgment we need 

It is well known that alcohol affects people's judgment, risk assessment and behavior. This in turn can increase the risk that important instructions about hand hygiene, physical distancing and more will not be followed.  

6. Alcohol prevention is a critical factor in povertycontrol 

We are already seeing enormous economic effects from the spread of the coronavirus. It is obvious that the public health crisis will also develop into a poverty crisis in many places. We know that alcohol affects and exacerbates several dimensions of poverty, and that alcohol prevention efforts such as evidence-based alcohol policy are central to combating it.  

7. Alcohol sales are not a critical community service 

Many countries have now closed all non-socially critical businesses and service providers. Some countries, such as Greenland and South Africa, have banned all alcohol sales during the crisis, while others see alcohol sales as so important that shops are kept open. In some cases, there are even home deliveries. Our clear recommendation is, based on the increased risk of violence and due to the burden that alcohol-related injuries already pose to healthcare, that alcohol sales should not be seen as socially critical.  

Pierre Andersson

Police Adviser, IOGT-NTO movement