LGs got larger role to control alcohol use

Health: Local governments (LG) have a bigger role in advocating and controlling the harmful use of alcohol as highlighted in the National Policy and Strategic Framework To Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol (2015-2020).

The Cabinet on December 2 endorsed the National Policy and Strategic Framework To Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol in an effort to reduce availability, accessibility and affordability, among others.

The policy states that the alcohol control policy will be implemented under home minister with the implementation of alcohol control programmes embedded within the roles of the dzongkhags, thromdes and gewogs.

A three-tier alcohol harm reduction committees will be formed at the national, district and gewog level. The home minister will chair the committee at the national level. Thrompon or dzongdag and the gups will chair the committee at the district or thromde and gewog levels.

The key functions of the committees are also outlined in the alcohol policy. Committees are mandated to come up with short, medium and long-term strategies to reduce alcohol availability, accessibility and affordability.

Besides advocacy programmes, the committees are required to come up with community-based alcohol harm reduction projects and monitor production of home brewed alcohol, among others. At the gewog level, the committee is required to include alcohol control policies as performance indicators and highlight them in the annual gewog reports.

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The committees will also approve annual work plans related to alcohol control and monitor the implementation of the local activities related to alcohol in their jurisdiction.

Director of public health, Dr Pandup Tshering, said many activities that are outlined in the policy are already being implemented. “We just need to further strengthen the activities.” He added that the National Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee (NAHRC) is yet to conduct its first meeting.

The policy, Dr Pandup Tshering said, is an opportunity for all relevant agencies to come together to work against alcohol use.

“Local governments have an important role to play through community participation,” added Dr Pandup Tshering, citing the example of a pilot study in Mongar and Lhuentse in 2011-12 where alcohol use and availability dropped significantly through community support and involvement.

The policy says that when multiple agencies are involved in alcohol control, licensing, education and regulatory efforts, occasional confusions and disagreements arise.

Says the policy: “A good stakeholders’ platform is required to ensure meaningful collaboration to promote a shared common understanding to ensure responsible alcohol business and good policies in alcohol use prevention programmes.”

As alcohol business and alcohol use occur in communities within the jurisdiction of the LGs, the LGs have legal, moral and social responsibilities in alcohol control and ensuring prevention education for communities.

“The LG should take an active role in monitoring, regulating and reporting alcohol violations in their jurisdictions in coordination with the central agencies,” states the report.

Emphasizing the need for proper coordination among the agencies, Dr Pandup Tshering said that if all the agencies are equally committed, results will be visible in about three to four years. “If all the agencies work together to reduce alcohol use, it will help save many lives and reduce cost burden.”

Thimphu has the highest number of bars in the country. However, considering the population above 15 years per outlet, Trashigang is the highest with 212 people per outlet. Trashiyangtse and Samtse trail closely behind with 170 people above 15 years per outlet. There are 944 alcohol outlets in Thimphu including bars, wholesale and retail. Chukha and Mongar have 623 and 350 alcohol outlets respectively.

Kinga Dema

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