Plenary Chair and Director of Mental Health, Alcohol, Substance Use and Tobacco at the South African Medical Research Council, Professor Charles Parry
Premier of the Western Cape Provincial Government, Mr Alan Winde;
Executive Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Mr Geordin Hill-Lewis;
World Health Organisation (WHO) Director for Mental Health and Substance Use, Dr Devora Kestel;
World Health Organisation (WHO) Coordinator for Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours, Dr Vladimir Poznyak;
Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Senior Government Officials from the African Union Member States;
Representatives of the Central Drug Authority;
Our international guests, representatives of civil society organisations, development agencies, academia and research institutions here present;
Members of the media;
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues;
Thank you and a very good morning to you all. It is my singular honour and humbling privilege to deliver the opening remarks at the official opening session of the 7th Global Alcohol Policy Conference on behalf of the Government of the Republic of South Africa.
At the outset, I would like to thank Professor Charles Parry and Members of the Local Organising Committee for the kind invitation to provide keynote remarks for the 7th Bi-Annual Global Alcohol Policy Conference here in the beautiful City of Cape Town. This conference is an important gathering for government, policy makers, civil society organisations, academia and research institutions in the frontlines of drugs and alcohol sector across the globe.
For us as the host country, this conference could not have come at a more opportune time. A month ago, we tabled the Draft Policy on the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Use Disorders to Cabinet for public consultation. The Policy provides a framework for decision-making within the whole sector about where the greatest drug-related harms are occurring, and identifying the best means to address those harms.
We are pleased that Cabinet approved the Policy for public consultation and recommended the establishment of a special committee of Cabinet Ministers to ensure coordination, strategic alignment and decision making in harm prevention and reduction strategies across government.
I am therefore confident that this policy conference under the theme:“Investing in People Before Profits: Building momentum towards the Framework Convention on Alcohol Control’” will provide the necessary political impetus and generate new research and evidence-based ideas in drug and alcohol policy. We look forward to your participation and contribution in the public consultation before taking this matter back to Cabinet for finalisation.
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Our Government is concerned that up to 1 in 3 teenagers are addicted to drugs and alcohol in South Africa. This figure is based on the numbers of young people presenting themselves to treatment facilities. While we are concerned about the harm that all drugs have on individuals, families and or society as whole, there is a significant body of evidence from research institutions such as the South African Medical Research Council and Soul City that suggest that alcohol is one of the most abused substances that causes the most harm to the most people in our country.
Research further shows that alcohol fuels crime, mortality rates and fatal injuries, and contributes to the unacceptably high levels of vehicle crashes in South Africa. At the same time, alcohol significantly contributes to gender-based violence and risky sexual behaviours associated with sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Time and again, the quarterly crime statistics show that alcohol abuse is one of the main contributors to crime around the country.
The mushrooming of illegal alcohol outlets, coupled with the poor endorsement of by-laws, cheap and easy availability of alcohol products continues to drive underage and binge drinking in many communities around our country. We are equally concerned about the emerging trends among young people of mixing alcohol with energy drinks.
In the face of these growing challenges, our people have demanded that Government take necessary measures to address the harmful use of alcohol. I must acknowledge that this has not been the easiest of tasks. Any measures to prevent and reduce alcohol harm has been met with a monumental and well- resourced push back that seem to put commercial interests before people from the alcohol industry.
We witnessed this when Government introduced measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including measures to reduce the impact of alcohol on the health system resources at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, liquor traders in Limpopo Province pushed back against Government’s plans to restrict the sale of alcohol beverages after midnight.
The alcohol industry’s opposition against the proposed policy measures is despite the fact that restricting the time and place for the sale of alcohol is a public health issue and not a mere commercial and economic concern. This is also because industry is rich and powerful, with strong lobby groups not short of the financial muscle to litigate any piece of legislation up to the court of the last resort.
Contrary to the assertions by the strong lobby groups in the alcohol industry, the South African government’s plans to reduce the harmful use of alcohol is not the misguided efforts of a so-called “nanny state”. Our overall objectives and proposals are informed by global evidence, and guided by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) best practice suggestions.
Our objective is to regulate the sale and supply of alcohol to the public, not motivated by revenue collection, but rather by purely by the interests of public health and wellbeing, with the particular purposes of protecting children and young people, reducing alcohol consumption, and preventing violent crime and other forms of alcohol related harm. This objective arises from the overwhelming evidence of significant harm to individuals and society caused by the harmful use of alcohol.
Alcohol consumption is one of the most significant risks to health. According to research collated by the WHO, globally, alcohol is responsible for about 4% of all deaths and about 4.5% of the burden of injury and disease. In a country like South Africa, which is rated by the WHO as one of the top 6 worst alcohol abusing countries globally, the impact of the harmful use and abuse of alcohol on individuals, families and communities is severe.
On this note, I would like to salute the important and unrelenting academic and policy advocacy work done by Professor Parry and the South African Medical Research Council and civil society organisations in this area.
I hope that this conference will be an important turning point that will provide impetus for the much-needed focus on the World Health Organisation’s Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. As is the case in many other countries today, our approach to alcohol policy has to shift from one where the objectives revolve around economic growth to the interest of public health, with specific focus on reducing alcohol-related harms.
This is an approach foregrounded in science and being followed by other countries, including Australia, most of Europe and many developing countries concerned with reducing alcohol harm prevention and reduction. There are many who perceive alcohol control policies to be running counter to competition policies, principles of market access or freedoms of choice and expression.
I am pleased to see the presence of policy makers, development agencies, research and academic institutions and advocacy organisations in the frontlines of our efforts to address the harmful effects of alcohol in this conference. We look forward with keen interest the key recommendations and declaration of this conference on the following areas:
Effective interventions to curb underage drinking in line with South Africa’s National Drug Master Plan (2019-2024)
Sharing of best practice models on advocacy and public awareness campaigns
Measures to address the easy availability of alcohol beverages
As Social Development, one of the key responsibilities is to prevent and reduce substance use disorders, including the harmful effects of alcohol.
As the Minister of Social Development I need to:
Measures to intensify community engagements and address the culture of drinking
Measures to increase access to screening and treatment services Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
There is growing appreciation for the fact that addiction is an illness, not a crime; that addicts need rehabilitation, not retribution. This is at the heart of our National Drug Master Plan that emphasises early identification and access to treatment and
rehabilitation services. We look forward to learn from you all in order to strengthen our own national policy response and to protect and save lives.
Earlier on, I mentioned the power of the alcohol industry that always argue for voluntary regulation and talk of alcohol as if it is an essential product and part of our culture for our mental health and wellbeing.
We need to work together in the same way that the industry does, even better, to turn the tide against the devastating impact of alcohol on our families and communities. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to stop the harmful effects across the globe, in partnership with the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and like-minded organisations.
Let me conclude with an appeal: let us make the 7th Bi-Annual Global Alcohol Policy Conference remarkable by accomplishing the things we collectively pledged to achieve, and for collective action to put the needs of the world’s most vulnerable citizens ahead of profit.
Thank you very much for your kind attention. I wish you a fruitful deliberation and a successful conference ahead.
And with that, it gives me great pleasure to declare the 7th Bi-Annual Global Alcool Policy Conference officially open.
I thank you.