Why did the European Commission decide to invest in a Joint Action on Reducing Alcohol Related Harm?
Over the last seven years, the level of alcohol related harm has been persisting in Europe at unacceptably high levels leading to serious negative impacts on health, society and economy.
The Joint Action is an important initiative to contribute to the health and wellbeing of the EU citizens and to reduce costs to health systems and the wider economy. It is an outcome of the reflection process to determine future strategic priorities of the work on alcohol related harm launched by the Commission in 201. The Commission invested in it because of the need to develop a set of complementary tools to support both the development of evidence and Member State policies – and, potentially, greater approximation of approaches.
The Joint Action engages Member States to address factors that slow down progress in tackling alcohol related harm and that cannot be effectively dealt with at Member State level. Better access to comparable data on alcohol consumption and harm would help Member States to put the national situation into perspective and consequently, would be essential for the Commission to monitor progress across the EU.
In addition, the lack of consistency across Member States in the use of guidelines on low risk drinking to reduce harmful drinking has been preventing the use of concerted and mutually reinforcing prevention messages. While there is an abundance of initiatives to prevent alcohol related harm, there is lack of solid evidence of their effectiveness. Combining examples of successful approaches would contribute to wider implementation across Member States, with benefits for individuals and the society.
What other action can and is the EU taking to Reduce Alcohol Related Harm in the EU?
At present, the main EU instrument setting out the way for Commission actions to tackle alcohol related harm is the EU Alcohol Strategy launched in 2006.
One of its implementation tools, the Committee on National Alcohol Policy and Actions (CNAPA) - with the support of the Commission - have been discussing national and EU alcohol policies and did a considerable amount of work in terms of exchange of best practices and exchange of views on the most relevant topics defined by the Strategy.As a consequence of this work, there is a significant convergence between national alcohol policies and actions.
CNAPA is presently translating in actions some of the objectives of the current Alcohol Strategy in the form of an Action Plan, focusing on youth drinking and binge drinking and covering a period of two years, from 2014 to 2016. To take another example, CNAPA have also recently started a reflection process on the future of the EU alcohol policy.
Another important instrument that is also available for supporting the work on all aspects of the EU Alcohol Strategy is the EU Health Programme. RARHA is co-funded by the last Health Programme. The new health programme will cover a seven-year period from 2014 until 2020 and was published on 21 March. It will be a powerful tool to support the EU's priorities in the field of public health and concretely to reduce alcohol related harm – its budget is nearly 450 million Euro.
What are the European Commission’s aspirations for RARHA and its outcomes?
Altogether, the tools developed in the Joint Action will help in the planning of public health policies that in the longer term contribute to reducing alcohol related harm, the risk of chronic diseases and the burden for health systems.
RARHA is expected to contribute to strengthening the skills, competencies and abilities among partners and in the wider public health community.
Concretely, the first core work package (WP4)will strengthen capacity in alcohol survey methodology and provides a common instrument for monitoring progress in reducing alcohol related harm. Although the time is too short for repeated surveys, joint work is expected to increase interest in the continuation of EU alcohol surveys.
The second core work package (WP5) will clarify the scientific basis and practical implications of drinking guidelines as a public health measure. Guidelines given in Member States vary in terms of drinking defined as low/high risk and of the quantification of alcohol intake. The impact of this work will be to increase consensus on key messages about harmful drinking to the population and health professionals.
The third core work package (WP6) intends to enhance access to well described, likely transferable interventions on which some evidence of effectiveness in influencing attitudes or behaviour and cost estimates are available.
There are three main target groups that can be considered also as final users of the outcome of the RARHA:
- The first is European policy makers that are in charge for the setting of alcohol policy, evidence based initiatives and effective strategies. They shall facilitate the implementation of population based actions and community programmes aimed at better dealing with alcohol related problems and thereby curbing the impact of alcohol on individuals and the society.
- The second target group is the citizens with and without hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption as the Joint Action aims to cover most of the European Member States. The final and main outcome of the project will be the provision of scientific evidence and good practices aiming at supporting of a comprehensive population based approach with the most relevant elements identified for drafting of guidelines based on a consensus. These guidelines will represent a real added value for most of the EU population.
- The third main target group is the health professionals such as primary health care providers supported in their daily activity with the evidence that feed the setting of common guidelines. The guidelines aim at better use of the information and advice on low-risk drinking approach. A sub-group within this target group will be the governmental and non-governmental (NGO) public health professionals and researchers whose work would also benefit from additional knowledge.